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Longtime KFC manager looking forward to new restaurant building

  • Val Mitchell, manager of Harrisburg's KFC, has worked at the Harrisburg restaurant for 42 years.

    Val Mitchell, manager of Harrisburg's KFC, has worked at the Harrisburg restaurant for 42 years.

  • Harrisburg KFC manager Val Mitchell with a fresh tray of fried chicken.

    Harrisburg KFC manager Val Mitchell with a fresh tray of fried chicken.

By Travis DeNeal
updated: 7/27/2017 4:33 PM

HARRISBURG -- Val Mitchell, the longtime manager of Harrisburg's KFC, has seen quite a few changes during her tenure at the fried chicken restaurant.

After all, she's worked there the past 42 years.

And later this summer, she'll see another significant change. The Harrisburg building will be torn down and a new one will be built to replace it, she said.

"It will be sometime about the middle to end of August," Mitchell said.

Harrisburg's KFC is known for being one of the largest KFC restaurants in the country. When it was built, it was the largest in both terms of square footage and seating capacity, Mitchell said.

"I've been told that since then, an owner in Georgia built one that was just slightly larger in square footage, but this one still has the greatest seating capacity in the U.S.," she said.

That number? It seats 225, Mitchell said.

While Mitchell says she will be a little saddened when the old building is demolished, the new building will also be noteworthy.

"It will be a flagship store, which means it will be the only one like it in the U.S.," she said. "It will have a double buffet, a meeting room and a double window drive-through, which will be on the north side instead of its current location."

The meeting room is designed to hold 50 people, she said, and the total customer capacity will be very close to the current capacity.

As to the changes she's seen, there have been many.

"I remember when we first had the Chicken Littles. They were very tiny. Now that we have them again, it's still small but it's quite a bit bigger than when they first came out," she said. "We used to have a breakfast buffet, which we stopped fairly recently."

For a period of time in the 1990s, when the restaurant was owned by the Barnhill family of Harrisburg, burgers and fries were offered. Fried fish and hushpuppies, were on the menu.

Perhaps the biggest change, though, is the amount of prep work no longer needed.

"When I first worked here, we still cut all of the chicken ourselves. We chopped all of the cabbage," she said. "Now, it all comes cut, chopped and prepackaged."

Mitchell, who lives in Carrier Mills with her husband, Rick, said what she has enjoyed the most about working at KFC is seeing multiple generations working there. She said she believes the responsibilities there learned help translate into a successful career.

"We've had lawyers and doctors who got their start here," she said. "I had a young man who worked here once who told me I was the worst manager he ever had. He went into the Navy and ended up retiring from the Navy. He told me years later that working here prepared him for a successful career."

When the current building comes down in a few weeks, Mitchell said she'll probably watch from the parking lot and shed some sentimental tears. When the new building comes, though, it will be back to business.

"I told them I wouldn't retire unless this building was gone," she said with a laugh. "But, I love working here. I've always loved it here, and I'll be around for a few more years."

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