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Al Tunick, Entrepreneur

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Like most Midwesterners, the folks who live around Rock Island are sturdy, but cautious. Seldom the first to try a new breakfast food. We like our bridges solid. Even here, however, there live occasional entrepreneurs who thrive on crossing creeks by leaping from stone to slippery stone.

One of the best was Abraham L. Tunick, whom Bnai Brith named Man of the Year in 1970. Al had the necessary beginnings for an entrepreneur: his father was a poor immigrant tailor in New York, where young Al folded boxes for small change.

During the Depression, Al and his brother put themselves through college by designing and selling jewelry to the Civilian Conservation Corps, going from camp to camp.

Al Tunick came to Rock Island, Illinois, in 1936, to work in the scrap metal business for his father-in-law, A. D. Harris. On the side, he remained the entrepreneur, selling old railroad boxcars to area farmers for grain storage.

In 1950 he borrowed money to buy a bankrupt company and found himself the owner of a large warehouse full of fryers and cookers. Reasoning that the best way to sell them was to demonstrate them, he leased a vacant store on 18th Ave. in Rock Island and, together with his wife and two children, began making chicken dinners.

An idea occurred to him at this point, why not make chicken dinners to carry out—a brand new idea at the time. Thus "Chicken Delight" was born, a success that mushroomed into a franchise with 750 stores and a familiar slogan on national radio "Don't cook tonight, call Chicken Delight."

During the first year, Tunick experimented with delivering his dinners to area farms by parachute from light planes, but the aim was not always good.

At the height of its success, the fun of the risk gone, Tunick sold out to Consolidated Foods. In the late ‘60s, he developed a new franchise idea: Karmelkorn Shops. At the time, no one in his right mind could have imagined people stopping at a store just for popcorn.

But right then, the mall craze was exploding across the country, the timing was right, and another slippery stone turned into a safe and very profitable island.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.