Fall of Pilgrim's Pride troubles its East Texas hometown

PITTSBURG — Regulars at Granny Y’s, locally renowned for top-heavy cream pies and Butter Pecan Earthquake Cake, say it was not unusual seeing the richest man in town mingling easily with diners before ordering fried chicken fingers.

Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim, 80, who chopped cotton for $1 a day as a child, had partnered with his brother Aubrey in a feed and live-chick business three blocks away in 1947.

Their corrugated steel-walled store evolved into Pilgrim’s Pride, a vertically integrated poultry company — from feed mills and hatcheries to packaged boneless chicken. After Aubrey’s death 42 years ago, Bo built it into the world’s biggest chicken processor with 47,900 employees and annual sales of $8.5 billion. And the company became Pittsburg’s economic engine and biggest employer.

Bo Pilgrim’s house alone would likely place him as the most affluent person in this quiet East Texas town. Nicknamed "Cluckingham Palace" for its unmuted ostentation, the slate-roofed, 25,000-square-foot, French-inspired mansion is appraised by the county at $4.8 million.

But on Dec. 1, neighbors were stunned to hear Pilgrim’s Pride announce that it was reorganizing under a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. From a two-year high of $40 a share, the stock price (ticker: PGPDQ.PK) has fallen to less than 70 cents.

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