I recently caught up with the co-owner of Roaming Rooster, Michael “Mike” Habtemariam. Roaming Rooster, famous on Instagram (www.roamingroosterdc.com), has won two awards for Best Fried Chicken and Runner Up for Best Food Truck. Habtemariam opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant at 3176 Bladensburg Road NE in 2018.
Coming to America
Habtemariam was born in Ethiopia and raised in Canada. “I am one of five children raised by a single father, a pilot who survived a plane crash while working in Ethiopia,” he recalled. The family eventually immigrated to Canada.
Growing up, Habtemariam delivered newspapers with his father at 3 a.m. to help support the family. The two saved up enough money to open a corner store in Ottawa. The store was not successful.
Habtemariam and his older brother turned to working in the food industry. After saving some money, they opened a sandwich restaurant called Gooneys, which was named after the C-47, nicknamed “Gooney Bird,” that Habtemariam’s father had crashed in. They later expanded, opening two Gooneys in downtown Ottawa.
Roaming Rooster Is Born
In 2009, Habtemariam’s brother got married and decided to move to DC, his wife’s hometown. He soon asked Habtemariam to join him in a new DMV food business. So, they sold Gooneys and opened a shawarma and poutine truck. It was followed by a vegetarian falafel truck and then a pizza truck.
“We saw a gap in the market and a shortage of good quality fried chicken trucks and wanted to start one,” said Habtemariam.
The brothers spent a lot of time perfecting their chicken recipe. Roaming Rooster was born. They started with one truck and then expanded to four. A brick-and-mortar restaurant followed in 2018.
The Rooster Difference
What makes Roaming Rooster unique? “We only use free-range, grain-fed and antibiotic-free chicken. Similarly, we also use top-of-the-line ingredients and products to ensure that the quality and taste of the food is not compromised,” said Habtemariam. “Our sauces and marinades are all made in house with the freshest ingredients.”
Habtemariam’s devotion to quality ingredients comes at a cost. “Although this does drive up our operating costs quite a lot, it’s a decision we’ve made to ensure we provide food with the highest quality to our customers,” he said.
This statement definitely conveys Roaming Rooster’s brand as a fried chicken restaurant. You can feel it from their customer service and taste it from their high-quality, flavorful food.
Habtemariam describes Roaming Rooster using three words, “family, comfort and meraki,” a modern Greek term that describes what happens when someone incorporates an element of their soul into their work.
The Roaming Rooster restaurant is a contemporary storefront featuring an enormous window. Walking past, one cannot help but notice the “I Got My Nashville in DC” sign.
Walking in, one is greeted by a friendly ambiance. The staff is ready to make a bird that will top any grandmother’s fried chicken.
East of the River tried the fried chicken sandwich, a popular choice. A buttermilk fried chicken breast is complemented by a house-made vinaigrette slaw and a side of fries. The slaw is very fresh and the vinaigrette flavorful. Neither overpowers or detracts from the exquisite fried chicken breast. Aesthetically, the dish will set anyone’s Instagram ablaze.
The truly starving should try the honey-butter fried chicken sandwich. This confection smothers a buttermilk-fried chicken breast in honey butter and cheddar with a side of mac and cheese. Outstanding! Honey butter, a delectable sweet and savory combination, will leave an everlasting impact on the most pedestrian taste buds.
Can’t make it to the restaurant? Dine at one of their four food trucks. Look for matte black vehicles with a bright crimson Rooster on the side and a friendly welcome. Follow the trucks on Instagram, @RoamingRooster1, and on Facebook, @RoamingRooster1.
Find Roaming Rooster at Instagram (www.instagram.com/roamingrooster1) or Facebook: (www.facebook.com/roamingrooster1).