Chicken Pie Shop 80 years later

To-go, delivery, and four social media posts a week

Shalia Costello: "I’ve been waiting at the one in Hillcrest since 1975."
  • Shalia Costello: "I’ve been waiting at the one in Hillcrest since 1975."

This year marks the 80th anniversary of San Diego Chicken Pot Pie Shop being in business.

Restaurants that predated the pie shop are the Waterfront Bar, Las Cuatro Milpas, and Tobey’s 19th Hole Cafe.

Restaurants that predated the pie shop are the Waterfront Bar, Las Cuatro Milpas, and Tobey’s 19th Hole Cafe.

“After the Peking Restaurant (circa 1931) closed last year,” said Lisa Townsend, “we became the fourth oldest restaurant that is still operating in San Diego County.”

The oldest operating restaurants that predated the pie shop on El Cajon Boulevard (on the corner of Oregon Street) are the Waterfront Bar (circa 1933), Las Cuatro Milpas (circa 1933), and Tobey’s 19th Hole Cafe (circa 1934).

On normal days, a-la-carte chicken pie will cost $5.99.

On normal days, a-la-carte chicken pie will cost $5.99.

“John Townsend, my father-in-law, worked for George Whitehead, the original owner, for many years,” she said. “Then in 1990, George became ill, and my father in law purchased the business. Then after my father in law passed, my mother in law ran the restaurant until she passed away 2 years ago in September 2015. She passed it along to their two sons, Bob, my husband, and Chris.”

Archie Moore "usually ordered the chicken pie and coleslaw."

Archie Moore "usually ordered the chicken pie and coleslaw."

Townsend, 48, said when they officially took over in January of 2016, she quit her day job as a sales rep to manage the pie operation, and the brothers continued working at their jobs. The brothers occasionally come in to help with the behind the scenes operations.

They will knock down a portion of the walls by Oregon and El Cajon and construct an open-air space.

They will knock down a portion of the walls by Oregon and El Cajon and construct an open-air space.

“We know that we have growing competition around us,” she said, “something that’s been beneficial to us are the delivery systems, including Postmates, Grubhub and DoorDash. Before we took over, my mother-and-father in law wouldn’t have thought to have done deliveries. But younger people would come in and say ‘Hey you need to start delivering’ and this opened us up to a whole new world, that has caused a great increase in our sales.”

The North Park shop that seats about 186 patrons, makes about 300 transactions a day.

“Since we took over, there’s been an increase in to-go and delivery sales,” she said, “but a decrease in dine-in sales.”

Townsend is trying to attract some of the customers that frequent southern North Park on University Avenue — by posting four updates a week on their social media accounts. The most recent photo was of their baked chicken accompanied with a cold beer.

“We also recently started selling wine and mimosas,” she said.

"My friend’s a photographer and I interact with the 3000 plus fans on Facebook and 600-something on Instagram. Interaction with them is important ….. and the most popular posts are the throwbacks.”

Last month she posted a black and white photo on Facebook and captioned it “TBT (acronym for throwback Thursday) (followed by a chicken-head emoticon). Diners lined up for a seat in the Chicken Pie Shop, April 10, 1943.” The post garnered 93 reactions and 19 comments.

“Steve, the baker, has been here since 1955,” said Shalia Costello, a 62-year-old waitress that’s been serving their pies filled with chicken, turkey and gravy — since 1975. “When they opened the Hillcrest one, the downtown restaurant was opened for a while. George’s brother Bill ran the one downtown, and George ran the one in Hillcrest. The one in downtown closed sometime in the 1960s and I’ve been waiting at the one in Hillcrest since 1975 and then we moved here to North Park in 1990.”

On April 6 at about noon, both Costello and Townsend helped the walk-in and dine-in traffic during our interviews. The restaurant was about three quarters full and every minute-or-so, patrons would walk in.

“I’ve been coming to the pie shop for 45 years since I was a young boy,” said a to-go customer, “and now I’m only 87 years old.”

“I’ve been waiting on that man for a long time,” said Costello.

“I’ve waited on Archie Moore a lot,” Costello said, “he usually ordered the chicken pie and coleslaw at the old days in Hillcrest. Then when we moved here, he didn’t come too much."

Barbara, the other waitress that is in her 80s, refused to be interviewed.

“Barbara’s waited on Russ Washington, the San Diego Charger,” Costello said. “He still comes in on the weekends and gets a lot of food to go. Coconut cream is his favorite.”

Last month, on March 14, was Pi Day, which is dedicated to the 3.14 number that corresponds to a circle’s circumference divided by its diameter. Many pie businesses in the U.S. capitalized on this day, including Townsend’s pie-shop. “In the morning there was a long line outside,” she said, “and later that evening at 8 p.m., we sold out of 1600 pies for $3.14.”

As of late, on normal days, an a-la-carte chicken pie will cost $5.99. Six years ago, it was less than $3.

Townsend added that they are negotiating their new lease. If everything goes as planned and they stay, they will knock down a portion of the walls by Oregon Street and El Cajon Boulevard, and construct an open-air space to dine.

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Wholesome food, wonderfully prepared by honest hard working people. Been eating there or bringing it home since the late sixties and now I’m in my sixties. 🐔🐔🐔🐔🐔

I freaking love this place! Yeah, it's old school and I hope it mostly stays that way.

Love their sign. I took this photo a while back.


by dwbat

I've loved their chicken pies for a long time, and at least used to love the price too. Their food was a real bargain down through the years. My now-wife and I would dine there before heading to the Symphony back around 1975.

But recently the place seemed dingy and down-at-the-heels, and not a pleasant place to visit. Maybe with their new-found prosperity, they can clean and brighten the dining room.

As much as I love the joint, would it kill them to throw a few peas and carrots in the Chicken Pie?

No stinkin' peas! No soggy carrots! Buy yourself a Swanson's if that's what you want. Chicken pies are exactly as they should be. No arugula or sun-dried tomatoes or quinoa either.

Great chicken pie but two problems: Way too expensive now; loaded with starchy carbohydrates. It's the starch (gravy & crust) that makes it great, but it also stretches my belt and spikes my insulin. Peas & carrots? Did you think this was health food?

I'll still go there 2X per year, can't help myself.

Those pies were always loaded with carbs. That was typical 1940's cooking. If you can't help yourself, just kick back and enjoy the flavors. I wish you and the shop well; let's not get too concerned with diet. (As they say in New Yawk City: Enjoy!)

You know what the North Park water tower is used for now? It's where they hold the gravy that is sent via gravity down to Chicken Pie Shop!

Scott - bring it home and add your own toppings, easy breezy. The dinner plate is worth the about 9$ dollars with side potatoes and some veg (if you can sit and digest a long time afterwards with the desert piece of pie. [pi 3.14...] or just go to Rudfrod's on Kansas and El Cajon Blvd, always open.

I've never had a "desert piece of pie" but I do like pie for dessert! Not at "Rudfrod's" but occasionally at Rudford's. ;-)

dessert in the desert is good too, thanks for your spell check dwbat

It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it!

I saw a couple of posts that state the Chop Suey Peking Restaurant is still open. I tried to call them on April 16 to verify that they are still open but there was no answer. I looked on their website ( http://chopsueysd.blogspot.in/ ) and it states they were closed from April 1st to April 11th. On Yelp, it states that they are closed on Monday and Tuesday. I will try to call back on Wednesday to see if the restaurant is still open for business. If the restaurant is still open, I will make the changes on the beginning quote in the story. I apologize for the confusion. Mike

Redfords is arguably worse than Denny’s—and that’s saying something! My grandfather used to say that he ordered pancakes at Rudfords and took them home to play on his turntable.

And freezing their hamburger patties makes excellent hockey pucks!

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