Courtesy Bedre Fine Chocolate
It’s difficult to say what makes Eischen’s in Okarche more of an Oklahoma icon: that it’s the oldest bar in the state or that it’s famous for its fried chicken.
Peter Eischen opened the saloon in 1896 and ran it until Prohibition shut it down. Then, Eischen’s son and grandson reopened the bar in the mid-1930s across the street from the original location.
Today, brothers Ed and Paul Eischen, Peter Eischen’s great-grandsons, own and operate the bar, and their children and grandchildren, the fifth and sixth generations, work there.
Although the bar reopened in the 1930s, the chicken didn’t start until the early 1960s, Ed Eischen said, and it began not as a menu item but as a game prize.
“We had a shuffleboard tournament every Wednesday night, and the prize was a fried chicken,” he said. “Well, people started bringing their friends to play and to help them eat the chicken if they won, and it got so popular, that we started selling chicken every night.”
The bar started frying chicken in cast-iron skillets, then in electric skillets, until the family finally bought a fryer to keep up with demand, Ed said.
In January 1993, Eischen’s burned down. State and local media covered the fire and did updates over the next several months as crews rebuilt the bar.
Maybe it was the media coverage, or maybe it was diners’ brush with a world sans Eischen’s fried chicken, but whatever the reason, “business just skyrocketed” after the bar reopened in August 1993, Ed said.
The bar reopened with four fryers and had to keep adding more to keep up with demand, he said. Even with eight fryers today, it’s not unusual for guests to wait an hour and a half for a table nights and weekends.
The kitchen is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and the bar is closed on Sundays. Eischen’s can handle large volumes, so groups are welcome.
Bedré Fine Chocolate
Bedré Fine Chocolate just relocated to its new, larger manufacturing facility in Davis, where it will produce about 300,000 pounds of chocolate each year. In January, the company ceased operations at the former factory in Pauls Valley, and in May, it restarted production at the new 35,000-square-foot Davis factory.
Local businessman Pete Cantrell started Bedré in the 1980s, and the Chickasaw Nation bought the company in 2000 as part of the tribe’s interest in tourism services and industries.
The new factory has a retail store and a viewing area where visitors can watch workers make the chocolates. The factory is also across the street from the Chickasaw Nation Welcome Center, just off Interstate 25.
One of Bedré’s top sellers is the crisps, available in dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white fudge. The meltaways are another popular item that are available in a variety of flavors, including espresso, mint, caramel, raspberry and peanut butter. Bedré also produces a molded Oklahoma-shaped chocolate that is a popular souvenir item.
The factory plans to start offering group tours this summer that will include a behind-the-scenes look at the manufacturing floor as well as samples. Bedré will offer the tours Monday through Saturday. Groups of 15 or more should call ahead to arrange a tour and will receive a group discount.