“When we got to a low of 15 percent, we were tracking how the industry was doing, and we were far better off then a lot of people were in the industry, and we were glad to only be down 15 and then quickly rebounded,” Terry says. “When those stimulus checks came out and as consumer confidence grew a little bit, sales rebounded very, very quickly. They went from down 15 to all of a sudden 10 and then it just kept climbing.”
In the midst of navigating the pandemic, Golden Chick found room for menu innovation. The brand joined the sandwich wars with its own Big & Golden Chicken Sandwich, which was rolled out systemwide at the end of May.
The sandwich includes a 5-ounce hand-breaded and deep-fried chicken breast that is covered with five pickles and Golden Chick’s own Lotta Zing sauce. That goes in between the company’s signature yeast rolls that are baked fresh daily.
“When the pandemic hit and we saw that our business had gone to even more extensively through the drive-thru, we felt that the product was right on course, and we continued to prep it, train it, roll it out, and then stayed right exactly as scheduled for promoting it,” Terry says.
Right now the chicken sandwich is mixing about 9 percent. But that number is expected to rise since the brand didn’t start promoting the new product on television until two weeks ago.
The roll out of the Big & Golden Chicken Sandwich followed the release of Golden Chick’s butterfly shrimp product during Lent in March. And Stevens says the restaurant has a couple more significant products it will move to market in the next few months. Although it’s tricky to balance fluctuations in business, the marketing calendar, and innovation, the president says there’s still room for new product news if it’s a quality item and reasonable for drive-thru.
Terry says the menu innovation has drawn traffic from new customers.
“I think a lot of our growth this year has come from an initiative that we’ve all had called the Customer of Tomorrow, which is growing our customer base, not just frequency of our current customers, but broadening our appeal with some items like the butterfly shrimp—adding a protein we haven’t had on our menu,” Terry says. “The Big & Golden Chicken Sandwich, we felt was a best in category sandwich and was going to broadly appeal to people we maybe haven’t received any traffic from in the past. It’s also something we feel like echoes what’s best about Golden Chick in terms of our flavors and being fresh baked every day.”
Beyond 2020, the future appears bright for the Texas-based chain. In July, Golden Chick announced a 20-unit deal to expand into Las Vegas, a new market. The first location is scheduled to start construction prior to the end of the year.
Stevens says the deal is part of an overall trend. Late last year, Golden Chick signed a 55-unit deal in Houston, and even before that, a 35-store deal in West Texas. Three months ago, the restaurant opened its first store in Louisiana, which Stevens says is exceeding expectations. There are plans to sign a five-store deal in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and move into the Gulf Coast next year.
Forty-two units are in the pipeline for 2021. The brand is growing so much that it’s actually having to reassess its goals. When Stevens joined Golden Chick last year, the team formulated "Destination 30," or goals to accomplish by 2030. This included opening 500 restaurants, claiming a top-100 spot in the quick-service segment, and reaching $1.2 million in AUV.
One year in, the AUV mark has been exceeded and now the company is projecting somewhere between 500 and 600 restaurants by 2030.
Stevens says the growing sales and attractive menu items are important reasons for the growth, but so is continuing to operate with a small company attitude.
“We’re a tight-knit family organization,” Stevens says. “And I think when you look around the [quick-service restaurant] universe, I think there’s a large group of individuals that are looking for that kind of environment—maybe more than the public companies, maybe more than private equity companies. They’re looking more for a family organization.”