If a corner commercial building sits vacant long enough in a forsaken Baltimore neighborhood, sooner or later it's bound to end up as a New York Fried Chicken (NYFC) franchise--unless a Rite Aid or CVS pharmacy gets there first. And that's only a little bit of an overstatement. In November 2001, the city Yellow Pages listed nine NYFCs. Eighteen were in the December 2002 phone directory. Since then, at least a few are sure to have opened up in new locations.
The growth trend for NYFC in Baltimore is significant for its timing. The franchiser started up in New York in the early 1980s, when Afghan immigrants arrived on U.S. shores to establish an economic foothold here in the aftermath of their country's war with the Soviet Union. Preferring overlooked urban locations, NYFC franchisers have since cut ribbons on corner shops all over the Big Apple and in numerous new locations in the Mid-Atlantic region--including Baltimore. But in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, NYFC in Baltimore found itself targeted for possible ties to terrorist activities.
NYFC's links to Afghanistan--and to Indonesia, considered by the United States as a country particularly prone to hosting terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida--made the franchise suspicious to U.S. and local authorities in the post-Sept. 11 world. A year after the attacks, federal authorities started arresting employees of NYFCs in Baltimore, on charges of overstaying their visas. Materials found in the employees' home in Northwest Baltimore included materials about Islamic "holy war" and computer links to information about flight schools, such as the ones attended by the Sept. 11 terrorists.
As the investigation unfolded last fall--and ultimately fizzled this year, without prosecuting any of the NYFC employees for any terrorist activities--an NYFC franchiser in New York also was arrested. He was accused of selling 15 kilograms of heroin to an undercover federal agent and offering to launder drug money through his NYFC outlet (the current status of this case could not be determined). Meanwhile, back in Baltimore, the owner of a North Avenue NYFC told authorities he could not explain why bank records showed deposits of more than $61,000 in 2001, while his reported taxable income was $12,000--a possible indication of laundering money and evading taxes, though he has not been charged with a crime.
Ironically, rather than suffering setbacks in business, NYFC has taken off in Baltimore since the franchise's reputation was sullied by the nation's law-enforcement apparatus. Must be the chicken--which, by the way, is excellent, as are the cheese steaks.