John Y. Brown Jr. is in an animated phone conversation about a burgeoning business deal. Motioning his guest toward a sofa in his home office, he covers the mouthpiece and whispers loudly, “It’s Kenny Rogers. Gimmie just a minute.” That would be the Kenny Rogers, the voice behind the country chart-topping song, “The Gambler,” and Brown’s former business partner in Kenny Roger’s Roasters. The fire-roasted chicken chain took off in the early 1990s and grew to about 300 stores before ...

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