Talking Chicken & Waffle Pop-Ups, Cooking, & The Other Pursuits of Reuben “Big Rube” Harley

I spoke with Reuben “Big Rube” Harley about his fried chicken and waffle pop-ups—the latest of which is tonight, January 27th at Toast Philly cafe—and how his photography, work at the Rittenhouse Square farmers’ market,and various cooking events all tie together.

Brion Shreffler: How many chicken and waffle pop-ups have you done?
Reuben “Big Rube” Harley: This will be my fourth, my third one at Toast.

B: So the first one was somewhere else?
R: A place in Yeadon called Social Space last year [where he did a chicken and waffle brunch].

Reuben Harley. Courtesy of R.H.

Reuben Harley. Courtesy of R.H.

B: Have you done other types of pop-ups?
R: Yeah, I did one at Zavino [kale and grilled chicken with fettucini; beef bacon, caramelized onion pizza and garlic oil; his “world famous” turkey lasagna] one at a place called Butters [fried chicken & sides], and one at Supper [now closed]. They [at Zavino & Butters] were guest chef spots [where he his menu was paired with house offerings].

B: Where is Butters at?
R: That’s a souful spot in Brewerytown.
B: How do you set these events up?
R: A lot of these restaurants that I do, the owners or somebody involved with them reach out to me. They want me to bring my audience because I have an eclectic audience: people that know me, read the paper, hear me on the radio[he’s on WIP from to time to time], all kinds of stuff. I bring a real diverse audience in. We do it on so-called ‘off nights’ to bring value to these restaurants [or cafes].

B: And you’re also at The Rittenhouse Farmer’s Market [Note: where I first ran into Reuben] selling for Rambling Roots Farm. That and your ongoing Street Gazing fashion photography project which the Daily News features, along with these pop-ups all speak to someone who loves interacting with people.
R: No doubt. That’s been my whole life. My grandmom always told me, you’re a people person, you charm the women. It just developed my whole life and is one of the keys to being who I am. I just communicate well with people.

B: Would you say the food pop-ups are the most personal?
R: Everything I do. I’m not a master of one thing. Everything I do, the passion I have for it—I run with it. I always get that question—what do you love the most. I love everything: my photography, Street Gazing; my food; my brand marketing [for Rambling Roots and other clients; he helped put Mitchell & Ness on the map]. I attack all of ‘em with the same passion. Nothing’s unequal.

B: Where was the first place you had chicken and waffles and how does past experience inform what you’re doing?
R: Over twenty years ago visiting L.A. and going to Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, it was just like, wow, this is amazing! Every time I’m out there. I hit it up. It’s just a hell off a combination. The way I do it I’ve always loved cooking growing up and anything that’s out there that I love, I tweak it to [make it] my own—I put my own twist to it. If you know about chicken and waffles and you’re in L.A./Hollywood, you gotta go to Roscoe’s House of Chicken & Waffles. People wait outside in limos and big Rolls Royces to get a seat in there every time I’m in L.A. From me loving that, I put my own twist to it.

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