Baba’s Hot Chicken Celebrates a Family Legacy in Audubon

Baba's Hot Chicken in Audubon is a restaurant two decades—and one war—in the making.

When brothers Leo, Jim and Pep Osmanollaj opened Baba’s Hot Chicken in February 2024, they satiated a hunger that spanned decades and a civil war. Though they could never have imagined it growing up in rural Kosovo, the Osmanollaj brothers’ latest eatery repays a 25-year-old debt to the grandfather who saved their lives during the the Yugoslav Wars.

When the Serbian military came to their small town in Kosovo in the 1990s, the brothers and their grandfather, Baba, ran for the mountains. They had 24 hours to pack away all their possessions before they were told the village would be burned to the ground.

For two whole days, they sequestered themselves in a mountain holdfast. Hungry and cold, the brothers missed the warmth of Baba’s farm and the intoxicating smell of his iconic fried chicken.

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After what must have seemed an eternity in those mountains, Baba came down to check on his farm. The military stopped him before he got to the village.

“‘I know where you guys are hiding,’” a soldier told Baba. “‘If we want to bomb you guys, we can do it right now. Just go get your family. Get out.’”

Left no other choice, Baba and his grandsons got on a tractor and made for Albania.

The Osmanollaj brothers all survived the war, as did Baba. With the fighting over in 2000, the brothers left the country and moved to the United States, where their lives began anew. 

Still children when they arrived, the Osmanollaj brothers were raised with an American entrepreneurial spirit, a doctrine that stayed with them through to adulthood.

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Stepping Foot Into the Food Industry

In 2016, Leo Osmanollaj and his brother were working dead-end jobs in the casino industry. While the work made ends meet, Leo was unfulfilled, and his brothers were similarly disillusioned. With no restaurant experience, they decided to open up HaveABURGER, a charming burger joint in the back of the Haverford Skatium.

Given their lack of expertise and the history of businesses operating inside the Skatium, that venture should have been a disaster.

“When we went there just sign the lease, the guy at the Skadium was like, ‘Guys, nobody made it here past one year,’” Leo recalls. “‘If you don’t have food experience, I would suggest you not even sign this.’ And we’re like, ‘Ah, what’s the worst that’s going to happen?’”

Eight years later, HaveABURGER is still serving up patties in the Skatium. That’s not to say there weren’t challenges though. 

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“The first year was probably the worst thing we ever did in our lives,” Leo admits.

Since the brothers still kept their casino jobs, they worked around the clock to keep HaveABURGER running. Sure enough, their hard work began to pay off. They understood quality service and quality products, and the marriage of those two led to eventual success.

Once HaveABURGER became a steady business, the brothers expanded. In the years following, they opened up five M2O Burgers and Salads locations as well as a Chestnut Hill restaurant and brewery honoring their Albanian heritage called Toska.

A Look at Baba’s Hot Chicken

Among their collective projects, their latest venture, Baba’s Hot Chicken, is unique. The five M2Os and Toska built their brand, but Baba’s is about honoring a debt. 

Baba cuts the ribbon while his grandsons Leo, Jim and Pep look on.
Baba cuts the ribbon while his grandsons Leo, Jim and Pep look on.

With over a dozen family members in attendance for the grand opening on Monday, February 26, the brothers brought Baba all the way out from Kosovo, where he lives to this day, to ceremonially cut the ribbon.

Twenty-four years after running to a mountain hideaway, the brothers gave back to Baba, who they visited in Kosovo every summer after moving to the U.S., for saving their lives. Born in Yugoslavia during the darkest days of World War II, Baba is a man who seems younger than his age. Despite the strife he has witnessed in his many years, he comes across as jovial and with a ready smile. It’s no wonder his zeal for life stimulated a timeless (and delicious) recipe for success.

 

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Crispy, spicy and flavorful, the headlining item at Baba’s Hot Chicken is the Baba’s Original sandwich. Served with Baba sauce, coleslaw and pickles on a soft potato bun at five optional spice levels, it’s a culinary delight from a fast-casual restaurant that delivers on every level.

Though Baba’s Hot Chicken’s grand opening is now in the rearview, and Baba himself has returned home, his legacy lives on in both countries. With the farm rebuilt, Baba will still be making his hot chicken in Kosovo, while Baba’s serves up his recipe in Audubon.

Baba’s Hot Chicken
75 S Trooper Rd, Audubon

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