By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
He’s a slim 6’8’’ businessman who weighs much less than Santa. All year, Dr. William Doolittle has lugged around a bag full of goodies across Chicago. What’s in the bag is juicy, flavorful, delicious and growing in popularity. They’re flying off the shelves in supermarkets. They are his special chicken patties, and in kitchens throughout the Windy City, they are a hot item this Christmas. In his first year of business, Doolittle has sold thousands of his patties in supermarkets in Chicago. Tasty and easy to prepare, they are key ingredients in a growing empire that’s been years in the making. As for the patties, adults and kids are lovin’ it. As the product continues to gain more fans, Doolittle is sizzling all the way to the top.
Relatives and college students everywhere joined their families for the holiday season. Just days after feasting on crown roast, glazed ham or some other special dish, many diners were raiding refrigerators or trekking to fast food restaurants many times to satisfy big appetites, while hosts were busy menu planning, shopping and preparing the big New Years celebration.
But instead of gobbling down a Whopper or Big Mac, many consumers in Chicago are becoming addicted to Doolittle’s chicken patties- juicy pieces of meat that can turn critics into fans in an instant. They are the size of a quarter-inch standard hamburger, but that’s where the similarities end. The patties are 100 percent chicken and have no fillers. Loaded with flavor, the patties are pre-cooked, pre-seasoned and can be prepared without oil and in a variety of ways, in just four minutes. Doolittle doesn’t recommend cooking the patties in the microwave.
For this story, Doolittle cooked his hickory and onion flavored patty pieces on a small, tabletop grill resembling the George Foreman brand. The aroma of the patties wafted through the kitchen; as they cooked Doolittle gave them several flips. This hungry reporter and some Crusader staff members first received small samples of the patties, which resemble chicken breasts but are far more moist and juicy. The seasonings gave a nice kick to the meat.
Impressed, we asked for more “samples” before finally consuming entire chicken patties, served on fresh hamburger buns with lettuce, tomato and cheese.
Doolittle has been doing demonstrations like this all year at supermarkets and stores. In the tough grocery industry, he faces stiff competition from existing brands and other newcomers like himself, who want to get their foot in the door.
For the past two years, Doolittle has spent many hours perfecting his product. The seasonings are a mixture of his several spices, which Doolittle will keep secret. In addition to his chicken patties, Doolittle also has special seasonings for meatloaf, and breading mix for chicken and fish. But his signature product is the chicken patties.
“I want to have a quality patty for everyone to enjoy,” he said. “I wanted people to taste the meat and the flavor.”
The patties are sold in Peace Fresh Market, Fairplay Foods and Cermak Produce. Doolittle said the patties are also sold in some stores in Detroit. The patties are sold for $3.75 for a package of four. In its debut this year, Doolittle said he sold 50,000 chicken patties. He noted that Blacks and Hispanics are his biggest customers. He said he was surprised to see Hispanics buying his product in large quantities after he conducted several demonstrations at Peace Fresh Market on the West Side.
Doolittle’s next goal is to get his product in Jewel and Mariano supermarkets in Chicago. He said he had plans in the past to have the stores sell his product, but they never materialized. He remarked that as a Black businessman, he once hired a white broker and his all-white team to push his product with distribution companies. Doolittle’s patties remained on the back burner and the partnership fizzled. But Doolittle persevered.
“I already knew this product would amount to something because I got the approval from customers,” he said.
Doolittle’s product is distributed by Nealey Foods, Inc. His patties have the potential to be sold around the country.
Doolittle worked for four years at Pillsbury in Chicago, where he learned how to market consumer products. He left the company in 1981 and created Frying Worth, a shortening for frying chicken and other foods. But product sales declined because of changing consumer tastes and a move to healthier cooking oils.
Doolittle started doing product demonstrations of ground beef and ground turkey. He started mixing several seasonings and before long crowds began flocking to him. He began thinking about developing a chicken patty that would be easy to cook. He would later put together his own seasoning for the meat. Now, Doolittle is developing a marketing plan to take his product’s success to the next level.
“Next year we’re going to break some barriers,” Doolittle said. “This is all from the Creator. I just want to be different and control my own destiny.”