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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to

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Donna Mason

Joe's Drive-In Chicken

Donna Mason’s grandfather, Joe Peck, established Joe’s Drive-In Chicken in 1966, in Whitesburg, Kentucky. A few years later, Peck decided to move Joe’s Drive-In Chicken to its current location, in Isom, a few miles away from Whitesburg. Donna’s mother, Cora, started working at her father’s establishment when she was twelve years old. She worked there through high school.

Eventually, Cora Peck Sturgil and her husband, Donald, bought the restaurant from Cora’s father. Donna Mason’s earliest memories include Joe’s Drive-In Chicken. As a child, she grew up roller skating around the parking lot of her parent’s restaurant. Eventually, Cora and Donald decided to give up the restaurant business in order to spend more time with their daughter. Cora went back to school to become a nurse. Donald drove a coal truck. They sold the restaurant to Lucy Ayers, an employee who worked at Joe’s Drive-In Chicken. After she bought the business, Ayers ran it for thirty years.

Mason followed in her mother’s footsteps and became a registered nurse. After fifteen years working as a registered nurse, Mason had the opportunity to buy her grandfather’s business back from Lucy Ayers. Mason credits Ayers with the continued success of Joe’s Drive-In Chicken. Today, Mason proudly continues the Peck family legacy. She runs the business her grandfather started. Her mother still helps her from time to time in the kitchen. Together, they sell their famous fried chicken, hamburgers, hotdogs, and of course, chili buns.

Date of interview:

Sara Wood

Sara Wood

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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


Alex Raij Txikito

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