By Megan O’Brien, deputy inside editor
In 1978, then-sophomore engineering student David Ferretti could not have been happier. His father had just opened up a couple of canteen food trucks around Northeastern University’s campus, giving Ferretti full access to the grub.
“It was great,” Ferretti remembered. “I didn’t have to worry about being poor and being broke.” Ferretti said having dad around wasn’t too bad, either.
Over 30 years later, the canteen trucks that Ferretti’s late father, Lou Ferretti, operated on campus have evolved into a central part of the Northeastern community in a small shack on Forsyth Street called Chicken Lou’s.
“It’s always been really important to us to stay a part of the community by supporting the athletics teams and the school groups with donations [and] doing catering,” Geraldine Ferretti-Berrios, Lou’s daughter and co-owner of Chicken Lou’s, said.
The restaurant is still entirely family-run, although the Ferrettis have brought on some outside help with their current cooking staff.
“They all become part of our extended family,” Ferretti-Berrios said. “Whether they like it or not.”
The Forsyth establishment has gained a strong following since its founding in 1990. Some students eat at Chicken Lou’s up to twice a day, in addition to alumni who return to get a taste of their college years, Ferretti-Berrios said.
“It’s really the only small business on campus, and that’s nice,” Joe Gorse, a senior engineering major, said. “The food is good, and it’s cheap.”
Lou used to tease students if they did badly on a test and help them out with rent money when needed, Ferretti-Berrios said. These are the stories she cherishes.
Even after David Ferretti left his job as an engineer at Raytheon in 1995 to run the business and allow his father to retire, Lou Ferretti could not stay away from the neighborly eatery he had created.
“[The retirement] lasted a month, and then he came back from Florida,” David Ferretti said. “He looked great, but he had more fun yelling at his kids than he did staying by himself.”
David Ferretti said he recognized that Chicken Lou’s had become an important part of Northeastern’s community when his father died in 2000.
“I mean, I can’t tell you how many people came around on the day that he passed to express their condolences,” David Ferretti said.
Looking to the future, Ferretti-Berrios and David Ferretti said they hope to see Chicken Lou’s grow, but would also be content to see the shop keep its character.
“I’d love to have a Chicken Lou’s on every corner,” Ferretti-Berrios said. “But if we could just stay here for another 30 years and continue being part of the community, I would be happy with that as well.”
Lou Ferretti may not have had a food service background when he set up his canteen trucks nearly 40 years ago, but, according to Ferretti-Berrios, he was still very much a businessman. She said her brother told her stories of her grandfather being offered a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise during the company’s infant stages.
“His response was ‘Coffee and doughnuts. Who wants that?’” she said. “I always joke that I could have been an heiress to Dunkin’ Donuts, but I’ll take Chicken Lou’s over Dunkin’ [Donuts] any day.”
Photo by Scotty Schenck