Story and photos by Dan Bagwell
When The Baskits opened in 1999, it was hardly expected to leave a dent in the Birmingham restaurant scene. Soon after father-son duo Fred and Paul Shunnarah opened the restaurant, however, they began to do just that.
Since its humble beginnings as part of a strip center on Greensprings Highway in Homewood, The Baskits has been a family-owned and operated restaurant aimed at setting the standard for quality food in Birmingham.
Paul’s history with family-oriented restaurants is a long one. After Fred immigrated to the United States in the 1960’s, he became a successful business owner in the grocery industry. As a young man, Paul worked in his family’s grocery store alongside his father, learning the tricks of the trade that he would eventually put to use as President of The Baskits.
The restaurant was conceived after Paul graduated college and noted a lack of quality chicken tenders in Birmingham. Working with his father (now semi-retired), and using knowledge gained from family experience in the meat market and grocery business, Paul proposed creating his own restaurant to rise to the occasion.
Eager to start the new business, father and son spent months experimenting with marinades and dipping sauce for the chicken. Confident with their final products, Paul and Fred decided to open shop.
For the Shunnarahs, hard work and dedication has paid off. A decade after opening, The Baskits moved from the strip center to a stand-alone building nearby, which increased the profile of the restaurant substantially.
In 2009, the restaurant was awarded “Favorite Chicken Tenders” in a contest sponsored by The Birmingham News. A panel of nine local judges voted The Baskits’ chicken tenders the best of approximately 40 restaurants in the Birmingham area.
The thing that sets The Baskits apart from other local restaurants, Shunnarah said, is extra attention to food quality. “Everything we do here, we marinate,” Shunnarah said. “Quality control is very important to me, I’m very passionate about it.”
The fact that The Baskits is family-owned gives it a leg up on many mainstream chain establishments through more personal and direct service, Paul said.
As owner, manager and even a cook, Paul is no stranger to hard work. He finds time to manage the establishment, help out in the kitchen, and mingle with the customers. “Hands-on service is priority one, whether it’s cooking in the kitchen, overseeing food quality or general customer service.” Paul said.
The Baskits is no ordinary fast-food restaurant, Shunnarah said. “We’re considered fast-casual, which is counter-service,” said Paul. “You come and order, we make the food right there and bring it to you.”
Although The Baskits has always offered a diverse menu, the chicken tenders have been the most popular item from the beginning. A slogan on the new building reads “Best Chicken Tenders in Town,” daring customers to put the restaurant’s specialty to the test.
The restaurant also shows off its school spirit by offering free drinks to local college students, another distinguishing feature not shared by many other restaurants in the area.
Despite such a large field of competitors, Shunnarah says that Birmingham is a great location for a place like The Baskits. “It’s not too big or small of a city,” said Paul. “It’s got a good, diverse group of people.”
With a new building and a more solid reputation than ever, The Baskits has become a force to be reckoned with among Birmingham restaurants. If the restaurant’s current track record is any indication, Shunnarah and future customers have much to look forward to.
813 Green Springs Highway
Birmingham, AL 35209