EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is in response to a reader-submitted question through Open Source, a platform where readers can submit questions to the staff.
MANSFIELD — My odyssey into figuring out what happened to the Church's Chicken on 276 Park Avenue West started with a stumble and ended with a thud.
I was assigned an Open Source question from an anonymous user on Jan. 6 asking, "Has Church's Chicken permanently closed?"
Reading this as an easy 'yes' or 'no' answer story, I left the editorial meeting with confidence — boy, was I wrong.
My first call was to Reed Richmond, a public health educator at the Richland Public Health Department. The department cited Church's Chicken with several critical and non-critical violations against the health code. But Richmond quickly told me he and the department didn't know why the restaurant was shut down.
"We didn't shut it down; I can tell you that," he said.
Within three hours of scoping social media, and calling multiple numbers with ties to the Corporate Church's Chicken office, I still had no idea who the owner of the franchise was.
I walked to the Richland County Auditor's Office looking to see if they could help me find the owner of the fried chicken franchise.
There, I discovered Spirit SPE Portfolio 2004, a Delaware Limited Liability Company in Scottsdale Arizona with a P.O. Box in Arlington, Texas. This company owned the property.
"That probably means it's a dummy company," the man who helped me said while circling the Commercial/Industrial Review document.
Armed with a deflating confidence and the review document, I walked into the Richland County Recorder's office hoping for better luck.
There, two women helped me track down a document showing 276 Park Avenue West was sold from Humble Oil and Refining Company, a Delaware corporation, to Church's Fried Chicken with a P.O. Box in San Antonio, Texas.
This deed was signed and sealed on June 13, 1972. We found no information about its closing, though a woman living in the apartments across the street from Church's Chicken told me it had closed some time in January.
Back at my office desk, I called Spirit SPE who told me they did not know the owner of 276 Park Avenue West.
"We oversee a lot of companies," said the woman, who did not identify herself. "I know I can't tell you who owns that franchise, because we have so many companies."
I called them the following day and asked again for information on the owner at 276 Park Avenue West. The woman who answered quickly hung up on me.
Frustrated and on a mission, I called the corporate office's franchisee line, and asked about opening a franchise in Mansfield.
I spoke with a man named Luis, who told me there was no active Church's Chicken in Mansfield. When I asked if there had ever been one, he told me there was not a Church's Chicken in Mansfield in the system.
So, that may be an answer to the question of was it permanently closed but not why it closed.
In case you were wondering, I am several thousands of dollars away from even opening a Church's Chicken restaurant.
On the third day of whiffing at the project, I called the commercial inspector's office. He told me one rumor -- the floor had caved in -- was likely not true, but that he had not been to the restaurant because there had been no complaints since last winter.
I called the Secretary of State's office who told me a different company, BAM Enterprises, in Columbus, owned the building. They did not answer when I called twice.
This story doesn't end with much of a resolution, unfortunately.
I did track down the phone number of a supposed manager of Church's Chicken, listed at the contact number on a commercial inspection document.
She answered once and said she would call me back. She didn't, and she has yet to answer my follow-up phone calls.
Sometimes, the right people just don't know the answers. If any readers know of any information, please shoot me an email.
Until then, I will start penny-pinching to re-open the Church's myself.