In the early 2000s—after having already spent 23 years in real estate and development for such brands as Lone Star Steakhouse and Salon, Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, Smashburger, and Ted’s Montana Grill—I began mulling over the idea of a franchise concept that would accommodate the ever-growing movement toward read meat alternatives.
I had worked with burgers, seafood, pizza, and steak, but to me, none had shown potential like the explosion of the chicken segment. So, it was time for me to create a legacy brand that would be here a long time; to create a niche that created a healthy platform that others didn’t offer.
I began experimenting with a big smoker in my backyard in Wichita, Kansas, using various barbecue flavors such as hickory and mesquite. It didn’t take long for me to realize that a franchise serving Almond Smoked Chicken as a heathy alternative would be a big part of the concept I was envisioning. With that knowledge, I conceptualized Chick N Max in 2017 and assembled a team of culinary professionals to perfect the menu. The first store opened in 2018, and the brand has since grown to three units across Wichita.
Today, Chick N Max offers a unique culinary experience with its 10 unique flavors of chef-crafted sandwiches, made with almond wood smoked pulled chicken or crispy golden fried tenders. Examples include the Maple Bacon Sandwich, featuring pulled smoked chicken, chopped bacon, a drizzle of maple syrup, cheddar cheese, and mayonnaise on a potato bun; or the Sweet & Spicy Sandwich, which includes lightly breaded, crisp chicken tenders, fried jalapeño pepper strips, cucumber, tomato, and sweet & spicy sauce on a brioche bun.
In addition, we serve our signature almond wood smoked chicken in the form of wings, leg quarters, breast quarters, and half chicken.
Guests can complete their meal with a range of 10 homestyle sides including fries, onion rings, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and smoked white beans, and 11 sauces that are made daily to ensure the highest quality and taste.
Most recently, we announced a momentous 2022, our first full year of franchising, highlighted by three new franchise development deals that will expand our next generation fast casual chicken franchise concept in Kansas, South Dakota, and Texas. The deals will introduce 53 new restaurants to these markets, including 25 across the state of Kansas, three in Sioux Falls, and 25 throughout the Houston metro area. With this gaining momentum, we’re well on our way to achieving our goal of opening 5-7 restaurants in 2023 and at least that many each year thereafter.
What was your first job?
My first job was scraping cheese off of pizza pans and washing dishes in a three-compartment sink in the back of a Pizza Hut. This is when the dough was made in house, sheeted, and cooked in a deck oven. The restaurant had a juke box, so we would turn the music up after closing. I was 12 years old and my family knew the local franchisee. Little did I know I was also learning food cost by measuring and weighing the ingredients. “Counting pepperonis” has stayed with me all these years!
What’s your favorite menu item at Chick N Max?
Oh, that’s a tough one. I still stand in front of our menu board and struggle with my decision. Our Sweet and Spicy sandwich is unique because of the raw cucumber which gives the heat an offset with its cool crunch. The maple bacon with our buttermilk horseradish sauce is a great alternative featuring our almond wood smoked pulled chicken. On game day, I always go with our incredible wings. If I want a healthy dinner, I opt for one of our salads with pulled smoked chicken on it. If I’m really hungry, an almond wood smoked half chicken. I’m all over the menu! I really enjoy our sides as well, particularly our white beans and greens.
What’s your favorite cuisine aside from chicken and wings?
I love home cooked Mexican food! My favorite place to get it has been open since 1953 and is still owned and run by the same family. I grew up eating their food and still crave it. They’re like family to me.
Who inspires you as a leader?
People! Often times, people within the industry get labeled as mere burger flippers. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re restaurant professionals who are serving and creating hospitality. But if I had to choose only one person, it would be George McKerrow, founder of Long Horn Steakhouse and CEO of Ted’s Montana Grill. George should be recognized more for his contributions to the industry. He’s truly a developer of not only leading-edge concepts, but also a great developer of people and advocate voice for our industry. He has been a mentor.
What’s the best piece of advice that other restaurant executives should hear?
We achieve results by and through our people! Select, hire, and train people, and develop a culture people take home with them (we have an incredible culture book at Chick N Max that our people carry with them). Understand that the P&L is the exhaust and our people are the engine. Take care of the engine and the exhaust will be fine.
What are some of your interests outside of work?
More than anything, I enjoy spending time on the water with friends, with a rod and reel in my hands. From that comes a good-old fish fry. I also enjoy concerts. Getting back to live venues after Covid has been so nice. Jackson Brown in a small venue was a 2022 highlight. For me, nothing brings people together like food and music. Smiles, laughter, and joy are the best rewards in life!