Albert Ryo Okura, the founder of the Juan Pollo restaurant chain and a major figure in the fast-food industry, passed away unexpectedly on Jan. 27 at the age of 71.

Albert Okura

Juan Pollo issued the following statement: “Albert was an entrepreneur characterized by his unwavering work ethic, resolute determination, and passion. He believed that it was his destiny to personally sell more chicken than anyone in the world.

“His journey started in 1984, where he opened the first Juan Pollo in Ontario, Calif. Even through widespread doubt of his success through his peers, he set a personal deadline of five years to demonstrate, to himself, that he would succeed regardless of the challenges. Following a tumultuous first year in business, his unwavering drive to succeed resulted in a steady increase in sales year after year.

“Decades later, he would grow the company to now having 25 locations across the Inland Empire, Orange and L.A. County. He took great pride in being a hands-on proprietor, dedicating himself to working in the store on a daily basis, seven days a week and throughout the year. Throughout the 40 years of running the business, there are only a handful of days that he did not work including all major holidays and even his own birthday.

“After quick calculations, he proclaimed that he has personally cooked over 2 million chickens and believed that he cooked more chicken than anyone in the world.

“As Albert continued to grow his restaurant business over the years, he was also actively engaged in philanthropic efforts within local communities. In 1998, he acquired the location of the first original McDonald’s in San Bernardino, where he later established a museum to commemorate the early history of McDonald’s. He was inspired by Ray Kroc and aimed to emulate his success in building one of the largest franchise systems in history.

“In 2005, he purchased the ghost-town of Amboy, Calif. Popularized in the ’50s and ’60s, Roy’s Motel & Café is now one of the most popular destinations to visit along Route 66. When asked why he purchased the town, ‘Who do you know that owns a town?’ he boldly declared. ‘When opportunities arise, you have to jump and never look back.’

A Juan Pollo vehicle parked in front of the location of the original McDonald’s. Albert Okura was an active philanthropist and was involved in the revival of Route 66. (MICHAEL KOMAI/Rafu Shimpo)
 

“Regardless of whether he was occupied with running his restaurants, renovating his museum and town, composing his autobiography, or participating in community parades,  he always believed there was more to do. With no time to waste, he was on a mission to achieve as much as he could in his lifetime. With every opportunity, he looked back and could not believe how far he had come and the people he met along the way. To many, he was more than a hard-working leader. He was a mentor, friend and father figure.

“When he was asked why he sacrificed so much to strive for his dreams, he proclaimed with a smile — ‘It is my destiny.’”

Roy’s Motel & Café posted, “Mr. Okura’s son, Kyle, shared in his father’s passion for Amboy & Roy’s Motel & Cafe. In the past few years Amboy has grown under the guidance and dedication of Kyle himself and he will continue  building on his father’s vision for Amboy.

“We have the utmost faith in Kyle and his family, and we know Mr. Okura’s dedication, tenacity and passion will continue through them. Thank you for all the kind words, condolences, love and prayers for the Okura family.”

Colton City Councilmember John Echevarria posted, “On behalf of a grateful community, I want to express my personal sympathy to the family of my dear friend, Mr Albert Okura of Juan Pollo … Over the years, he gave so much to the community, including the famous McDonald’s Museum, which draws thousands of tourists annually.

“He was always willing to give many local at-risk youth a fresh opportunity with a good job. We will be forever grateful for his numerous contributions to the entire Inland Empire.”

Cartoonist Phil Yeh posted, “Yesterday … we got the tragic news that our friend Albert Okura passed away.Albert owns the site of the original McDonald’s in San Bernardino and is the reason that we have painted these murals on the building for the last decade.

“When I first met Albert in 2011, he told me that he used to read comic books and that his favorite artists were Jack Kirby and Sergio Aragones. When I told him that I knew Jack and Sergio was a good friend of mine, he immediately said I could paint whatever I wanted on the building. It’s been over a decade and in my wildest dreams, I could not believe that we are still adding stuff to this mural and now retouching the south wall.

“Albert founded Juan Pollo and also owns the town of Amboy on Route 66 but he will always be remembered by me as a real patron of the arts. My prayers are with his family and all the people he touched in this life.”

Mark Landis, a columnist for The San Bernardino Sun, recalled, “Okura loved to share his story … Albert became a walking encyclopedia of fast-food history, which has deep roots in San Bernardino.

“I’ll never forget the night Albert came to speak at the San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society, and word got out there would be free Juan Pollo chicken at the event! The hall was packed to standing room only, and Albert’s famous rotisserie chicken put a delicious finishing touch on his fascinating talk.

“When the Camp Cajon Monument was reconstructed on a small strip of Route 66 in the Cajon Pass in 2019, I asked Albert if he would cater the July 4th dedication event, and he eagerly agreed. Albert brought chicken and fixings, plus a full complement of servers, an eclectic group of Route 66 aficionados, and even a few vintage vehicles to enhance the nostalgic theme of the event.

“The last time I saw Albert was at the re-lighting of the Roy’s Café sign in Amboy, on Nov. 16, 2019. He was flitting about like a proud father, watching his son Kyle officiate the ceremony. Kyle managed the re-lighting project, and when the switch was thrown for the iconic neon sign shortly after sunset, it buzzed to life amid the hoots and cheers of hundreds of Route 66 fans.

“Albert will be missed dearly by his family and friends, and Route 66 fans will forever be in his debt for preserving a beloved piece of the Mother Road.”

In 2014, Okura published his autobiography, “Albert Okura: The Chicken Man with a 50-Year Plan.” An overview of the book: “At a growth rate of baby chick to full adult in less than two months, chickens are one of the fastest-growing food sources known to man. It seems that chickens were put on Earth to supply the world’s population with eggs and meat. This book tells the story of Albert Okura’s belief that his destiny in life is to sell more chickens than anyone else in the world.

“Although sounding preposterous at first glance, it needs to be noted that Colonel Sanders did not sell his first franchise until he was 60 years old. Albert was born in 1951 and grew up with the fledgling fast-food industry. His first full-time job was working at Burger King as a hamburger cook. Recognizing that mental toughness as well as the ability to train, develop, and motivate others was critical for long-term success, Albert gravitated to those who inspired him. Lessons learned from life experiences helped him realize his destiny.

“In 1984, at the age of 32, Albert opened a rotisserie chicken restaurant with help from his uncle. Albert has become Southern California’s foremost expert on mass-producing tender and moist rotisserie chickens. Juan Pollo is now poised to go into the big time. This is their story.”

Okura is survived by his wife, Sella; three children, Kyle, Aaron and Chloe; sisters, Amy (Ray) Pong and Susan (Andy) Hoffman; nephew, Dillon (Ombie) Hoffman; and niece, Sara Hoffman.

Memorial service will be held on Saturday, Feb. 11, at 5 p.m. at Skyrose Chapel, Rose Hills Memorial Park, 3888 Workman Mill Rd., Whittier. Directions from Gate 1: Drive past the information booth and follow the white painted curb line to the top of the hill. Turn left just past the chapel. Parking is on the left.

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