Chicken and waffles was a favorite dish for both Josh Lanier and Jonathan Almanzar, but they didn’t like how “you had to knife and fork it,” as Lanier puts it. So the two set out to reinvent the chicken and waffles to be portable in a waffle-cone-like format. Now, their fast casual Chick’nCone is three brick-and-mortar and three mobile units strong, with another five stores planned before the end of the year. Altogether, Chick’nCone has awarded 17 franchise licenses and hopes to have 1,500 units in five years.

QSR spoke with Lanier about the Chick’nCone experience and how it fits into the industry today.

Can you describe what it’s like to eat a Chick’nCone?

Our waffle cones are a combination of soft and crunchy. We hand-bake and hand-roll them in-house, so they’re a lot more fresh and a little bit thicker than what your typical waffle cone would be. The chicken is juicy on the inside with a light, crispy coating on the outside. It’s a sensory experience, I would say, because you have the slight crunch and chewiness of the fresh waffle cone, you have the juiciness of the chicken, and the crunch of the breading. And then we have a variety of sauces—a range of sweet, spicy, and tangy—to meet everybody’s palate. It’s handheld comfort food. People will say, “This tastes like my grandma’s cooking.” It’s just a fun experience. You eat it right out of the cone, similar to how you eat an ice cream cone.

How have you played with flavors on the menu?

All of our sauces are delicious and meet a variety of tastes, but one that I am most proud of is our Peri-Peri sauce. It’s a spicy South African chile–style sauce that’s made from a unique blend of spices and herbs. Jonathan actually brought the idea to us after experiencing something similar on a trip to Europe.

One of our most popular LTOs is our Spicy Mac’nCheese Chick’nCone—homemade, creamy mac and cheese mixed with crispy fried chicken tenders, and piled high into a fresh-rolled, sweet-and-spicy waffle cone.

What is your innovation process for new sauces, menu items, and LTOs?

We want something that’s going to be simple to implement for our managers and franchisees. We try to avoid any type of LTOs that are going to require additional equipment or excessive processes, so that’s the internal aspect of it. The external aspect of it is, obviously, it needs to be delicious. We want it to be innovative, something new and unique. We want our guests to feel like they’ve discovered something. For me, the process begins with just experiencing new things. I do eat out a lot, and a lot of that is research. It’s all about experiencing new things. Both Jonathan and I do a lot of traveling.

What do you think today’s customers want out of a fast-casual fried chicken experience?

Increasingly, guests want a great experience, not just a meal. Fast-casual and quick-serve guests demand fresh food, fast service, and friendly interactions with staff. We strive to meet these demands in such a way that makes their entire experience one that they will want to share with their followers, friends, and family on their favorite social media outlet. Guests are also increasingly looking to dine at places that feel trendy, that they can post about and create FOMO (fear of missing out) in their sphere of influence. Everyone wants to feel like they have discovered the next hot thing. Chick’nCone welcomes that type of experience seeker.

Where do you see fried chicken trending in the next couple of years?

Fried chicken has always been a favorite menu option. In the last few years, we in the industry have seen a strong uptick in fried chicken sales even against the better-burger options out there. We believe this trend will continue to increase, especially as better and more sustainable chicken raising and processing methods are adopted by growers. People want to eat fried chicken, but they also want to know that it is high-quality, healthy, and sustainable.

Business Advice, Menu Innovations, Story