COVID’s arrival in March 2020 completely scrambled the brand's neighborhood ideals, especially since four units are in New York and one is in Los Angeles—two of the most restricted markets during the early months of the pandemic. Seymour’s best option was constructing a takeout window at his Brooklyn location.
As weeks passed, Sweet Chick rebuilt its menu, including adjustment of portion sizes and lowering of prices. The food was more reminiscent of what the company served at pop-ups and concession stands at Citi Field in New York and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles—sandwiches, salads, and of course, chicken and waffles.
The changes expanded to all restaurants, and the chain was met with lines of customers, growing sales, and lower labor costs. At this point, it was clear to Seymour that fast casual was the future.
“The term that we came up with was really just shut up and play the hits,” Seymour says. “Play the things that people really wanted from us and expand on that. … When we looked at the menu and we looked at everything, we really as a company spent a lot of time on preparation around items that really weren't our home run items per se, and obviously we put a lot of preparation and time into making all of our food, but there was just a lot that we were doing that I think allowed us to pay more attention to the stars of the show.”
In the back of house, Sweet Chick focused on redesigning kitchens in a way that resulted in faster quicker times without losing quality. That meant implementation of kitchen display systems, rethinking partnerships with vendors and what should be completed in house, and rewriting training documents—all with scalability in mind. Since the brand adopted the counter-service format, there’s been somewhat of a learning curve for customers, but Seymour believes guests have almost been trained for it during the pandemic, especially with the rise of QR codes.
The latest version of the menu is simple, starting with a brunch section featuring a variety of biscuits and a main segment offering Belgian waffles with two-piece bone-in or four-piece boneless chicken, fried or grilled sandwiches, chicken and fries, shrimp and grits, a chicken bucket, and salads. The alcoholic beverage lineup is intact as well, like the “Tiger, Tiger Woods Y’all” (bourbon, cognac, and Arnold Palmer) and Purple Drank (gin, grape juice, and lime juice).
“We still intend to be a hospitality-driven fast casual, so we still intend to do things maybe other fast casuals won't and give a little bit of extra hospitality. It's in our brand DNA,” Seymour says. “We are really a hospitality-driven company, and I want to leave that in the fast-casual space.”
Coming out of the pandemic, Seymour knew one of his next steps would be raising additional growth capital. The company already received an early investment from Grammy Award-winning rapper Nas.