Andy Howard knows his way around chicken. The current president and CEO of Florida-based chain Huey Magoo’s has been in the poultry business for over 35 years, moving from rotisserie to breast to wing and finally tender.
He started with Kenny Rogers Roasters, becoming senior vice president before moving to Ranch One, where he gained experience in marketing, purchasing, research, and development of the chicken industry.
From there he joined Wingstop in its efforts to revolutionize the wing. In his 10-year run at the brand, he watched it grow from 60 stores to over 600, all while flying back and forth from Dallas to his hometown of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“Starting out, I never thought I would dissect the bird the way I did in my career,” Howard says.
Somewhere toward the end of Howard’s time at Wingstop it became increasingly clear that a new trend was on the verge of exploding: chicken tenders.
Wing prices have been volatile, especially during the pandemic, and supply chain complications have been an issue for many chicken chains. Originally coined as boneless wings, the chicken tender was gaining traction for its availability and attractive price.
Ready to return home to his family and look for the next phase of his career, Howard sat down at his computer and typed “chicken tenders” into the search engine. Up popped Huey Magoo’s—and his interest was piqued.
Founded in 2004 by Matt Armstrong and Thad Hudgens, Huey Magoo’s is a quick-service chicken concept that only serves all-natural tenders (which they call “The Filet Mignon of Chicken.”) According to the website, only the best 3 percent of chicken is served.
Howard, along with former Wingstop executives, purchased a majority share of the company in 2016 and reworked the systems to “get it to a point where we felt it was franchise-ready … and then we started selling franchises and opening stores.”
Innovation continued, spurred by the pandemic. A massive push for drive-thru prototypes occurred, and the first location in Loganville, Georgia, garnered sales three times what they had originally projected. Now, the brand is pushing for 80 percent drive-thru locations.
“We have certainly perfected the drive-thru, but we are giving our franchisees the option to develop [their unit] about five different ways,” Howard said. “We do a lot of conversions, we also do endcaps in strip centers, but even the non-drive-thrus are very successful.”
Huey Magoo’s has experienced record-breaking footprint growth, reaching 20 stores in 2021 and 40 units by the end of 2022. The brand hit its 50th milestone in September; the company had fewer than five stores when Howard acquired it. The restaurant—which will host a grand opening on October 3—opened near Asheville, North Carolina, thousands of miles from where Huey Magoo’s first began.
The news comes on the tail of two new leases signed for corporate drive-thru locations in the greater Orlando area and a total of 250 franchises have been sold which will open over the next several years.
“We have a three-store minimum requirement for any franchisee, but we have got some that have the rights to over 20 stores,” Howard said. “So, we have some large territories out there, in places where people are looking for growth.”
Moreover, year-over-year same-store sales were up by 22 percent in 2022, and the company reached $30 million in systemwide sales in 2021.
Howard believes an attractive selling point for potential franchisees is the potential for expansion within Huey Magoo’s system. With an older brand, franchisees may be limited to certain territories due to being maxed out of the area, but this is not the case for Huey’s. Early franchisees are given the option to spread out.
The chicken concept spans over eight states: Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Ohio.
“As we are opening new markets, from an operations and training point of view, we are doing it contiguously because of how critical our distribution is,” Howard said. “Besides geographics, the most crucial thing is partnering with like-minded, passionate franchisees.”
Franchises are being sold in 12 states, branching out into Missouri and Nevada. The 42nd Huey Magoo’s location in Las Vegas, which opened inside of the Fremont Food Hall in early January, is a testament to the brand’s maturation.
“We are going to keep growing this baby, and I do not have a finished number,” Howard said. “I am having fun, our corporate teams and franchises are having fun, and by the way, we are making money as well … our goal is to make some money and enjoy what we are doing every day.”