Sonny’s Fried Chicken and Burgers; bringing the taste of American tradition to Melbourne

Get the latest from Beat

Sonny’s Fried Chicken and Burgers; bringing the taste of American tradition to Melbourne


What kind of restaurant is this? A damn tasty one, thinks owner and operator of The John Curtin Hotel and Sonny’s Fried Chicken and Burgers, Ben Russell, AKA Rusty.

After running a slew of short-term pop-ups from The Curtin’s kitchen – Huxtaburger, Blue Bonnet BBQ and Leonard’s House Of Love – Russell decided it was time to open up his own greasy, delicious, American-inspired eatery from his popular Carlton live music venue.

“We used to run pop-ups at The Curtin then we decided, shit, let’s give this a go and start up our own fried chicken joint.”

Russell and his crew are currently gearing up to take the next step on their chicken-frying journey and turn the tables – this time it’s Sonny’s opening a pop-up at Collingwood live music institution, The Tote Hotel.

“The people who run The Tote kitchen are finishing up. The Tote approached us to take it on and we were happy to get involved. It’s also a pretty good reason to spend a bit more time at The Tote.”

Russell surely knows what he’s talking about when it comes to live music venues in Melbourne – he owns one of the best, and it seems will be immersing himself in the Melbourne live music scene even more with this new partnership.

The Tote Hotel has been a Melbourne icon since the ‘80s, famous for supporting both local and international punk, metal and psychedelic rock acts.

In 2010, disputes over Victorian Liquor Licensing laws saw a brief closure of the venue, but the outcry from the local community, including up to 20,000 people attending two individual rallies, and the “Fair Go 4 Live Music” petition, resulted in not only the re-opening of the Tote, but the cementing of the venue’s cultural significance in the Melbourne Arts scene. 

The Tote’s significance can only be improved then, with the crispy addition of Russell and his pressure-fried chicken, fishnet-wearing sexy cartoon chicken on the menu and all.

You can be sure of this, because Russell knows as much about fried chicken as he does live music.

“I have an unhealthy obsession with fried chicken. I’ve travelled all over the States eating at some of the best. I always find the best chicken joints are the Mom and Pop chicken joints – like Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, New York Fried Chicken, et cetera.”

American-style fried chicken, just like American-style burgers, seem to have taken over Melbourne recently, as we reach almost peak USA fad. Russell isn’t worried however, as he sees room in the fryer for all the chickens.

“There are heaps of different chicken shops out there. And they’re mostly damn fine. But I guarantee that Sonny’s is the juiciest and the tastiest. It’s brined for 24 hours and then pressure fried.”

Not only is Sonny’s chicken taking its juicy taste inspiration from America, but Russell has also followed his favourite Mom-and-Pop-style American chicken shop’s lead, and named his joint after his son, Sonny.

“We decided to call it Sonny’s after my son, Sonny. Who we called Sonny, after Sonny, from Sonny and the Sunsets, who my wife and I love and who played the Curtin.”

And Sonny and the Sonny’s Fried Chicken family are about to welcome a new member to the crew, with Russell and his wife expecting a new baby this week.

The newest Russell will surely grow up to be one happy, well-fed child, both in food and music, with a Dad who owns one of Melbourne’s best live music venues, and fries delicious chicken out of one of the most iconic.

Sonny’s Fried Chicken and Burgers at The Curtin is coming up on its first birthday, with the opening of The Tote pop-up also set to launch next week, with no planned pack-up date as of yet.

“It’s just a pop-up so get in while you can. But who knows, we could be there for a while.”