At Chicken Salad Chick, ordering a chicken salad sandwich for lunch isn’t as simple as it sounds. The Alabama-based fast-casual concept offers 15 varieties, which explains how chicken salad accounts for 96 percent of the chain’s sales. The ham, turkey, roast beef, and Pimiento cheese deli sandwiches are reserved for the rare Southerner who’s not a fan of the chicken-and-mayonnaise concoction.
“Chicken salad is a part of the Southern culture,” says Chicken Salad Chick president and CEO Kevin Brown. “Before I got involved in this business, I don’t know if I personally realized what an important role chicken salad played in the Southern diet. People are fanatical about it.”
The chicken salad choices at Chicken Salad Chick include founder Stacy Brown’s original recipe, dubbed Classic Carol. More adventurous chicken salads include Kickin’ Kay Lynne, which has buffalo sauce, ranch dressing, bacon, shredded Cheddar cheese, and jalapeños. Olivia’s Old South features sweet pickles and egg, and Luau Lydia gets tropical flavors from pineapple and macadamia nuts. While the classic is the No. 1 seller, the Fancy Nancy chicken salad, with apples, pecans, and grapes, is a close second.
“It is somewhat market driven,” Brown says of which items are popular in a given unit. “Auburn, Alabama, has a large college population, and young people gravitate toward spicy flavors or those with bacon and ranch. In a place like Marietta, Georgia, where the median age is higher, the fruit and nut recipes do better, as does Olivia’s Old South.”
Each Chicken Salad Chick location makes between 240 and 400 pounds of chicken salad each day in-house using fresh, boneless, all-white-meat chicken. Sandwiches can be ordered on a croissant, a hoagie roll, or on white, wheat, or sourdough bread.
In addition to chicken salad, sides are also made in-house, including broccoli salad, grape salad, and pasta salad. Soups are made off-site from proprietary recipes.
Chicken Salad Chick
President and CEO: Kevin Brown
Founder and VP of
Brand Development: Stacy Brown
HQ: Auburn, Alabama
Year Started: 2008
Annual Sales: $33 million
Total Units: 30
Franchise Units: 26
The chicken salads, as well as sides, are available by the pound for takeout. Brown says about 45 percent of Chicken Salad Chick sales are dine-in orders, with the remaining being takeout or catering. Takeout orders combined with dine-in meals bring the check average to $14.27.
Chicken Salad Chick was an idea “born out of necessity,” Brown says. His now-wife Stacy started selling homemade chicken salad to friends and neighbors to supplement her income after a divorce. But she quickly learned, via a call from the local health inspector, that what she was doing was illegal. Brown encouraged her to start a business, and the first Chicken Salad Chick opened in Auburn in 2008.
“On the second day of being in business, we looked at each other and said, ‘We have something big here,’” Brown says.
That first location was strictly takeout, but when the suite next door became available, the couple rented it in order to stop people from sitting on the floor to eat, Brown says. Before 2008 ended, Chicken Salad Chick was a 48-seat restaurant, and Kevin and Stacy were married.
The brand grew to three locations in the first two years, and the Browns looked into franchising. “Being in a college town like Auburn proved to be a built-in marketing opportunity,” Brown says. “So many kids were bringing mom and dad in from other cities. They would eat at Chicken Salad Chick and say, ‘We have nothing like this where we live. … Have you thought of franchising?’”
During the months spent compiling an operations manual and putting together a franchise agreement, Brown started a database of potential franchisees. Between mid-2009 and late-2010, he compiled a list of more than 100 people who had expressed interest in franchising. The first Chicken Salad Chick franchised store opened in October 2012. By the end of 2014, there will be 30 Chicken Salad Chick stores open, with 30 more to open in 2015.
“Our plan is to open 40–50 a year beyond that,” Brown says. “We have contracts signed to do that each year through 2018.”
In the next four years, Chicken Salad Chick will multiply in existing markets and add stores in new markets like Dallas, Houston, and Tampa, Florida.
“There are enough markets from North Carolina to Texas to keep us occupied,” Brown says. “We have interest in the Midwest and East Coast, too, but that will have to wait. We’re developing concentrically.”
As committed as they have been to the success and growth of Chicken Salad Chick, the Browns don’t want it to take over their lives. Nor do they want it to take over the lives of their franchisees and employees.
“Part of our franchise agreement is to close on Sundays,” Brown says. “Stacy and I found we can offer a quality product in a concept that people will frequent without us having to sell our souls to the restaurant. We want to enjoy life outside of work and pass that on to our staff. It’s fun to be able to offer that avenue for living to people so they can be with their kids or do whatever they want on Sunday. Our markets and customers in those markets have supported that. We’re proud of it.”