When stay-at-home mom Stacy Brown was told by local county health department officials she could not continue making and selling her chicken salad recipes out of her home kitchen, she overcame that obstacle by launching her first restaurant with the business expertise of future husband and fellow founder, Kevin Brown in 2008. The small takeout restaurant quickly grew and the Chicken Salad Chick now has more than 50 restaurants across the Southeast and approximately 146 franchises to be developed across the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana and Texas. In our "Talking With" series, Stacy Brown tells Modern Restaurant Management magazine why chicken salad is so important to her and her recipe for growing a brand.
Why were you on a quest for perfect chicken salad?
It is a staple that Southerners have a deep appreciation for. It’s a comforting dish with intriguing variations, from Grandmother’s recipe to interpretations by cutting edge chefs. I wanted to find the “gold” that we search for in a good chicken salad so I could share it with others.
Did you consider giving up when the health department forced you to stop working out of your home kitchen?
Yes! When they called, it really was a blessing. The demand for my chicken salad had already become too much work for one person to handle. I was spending my days with the kids and delivering chicken salads, then making dinner, putting them to bed and staying up into the wee hours of the night to make chicken salad for the next day. There is only so many days of that little sleep a person can handle! When they called, I had to make the decision to either take the little bit of money I had and secure a home, or invest in a little take out spot and give it a try. Thank goodness I chose the latter.
I wanted to find the 'gold' that we search for in a good chicken salad so I could share it with others.
Was a restaurant always a possibility?
It was a possibility, but never a goal. I was more concerned with the immediate needs I was facing, which was to provide for my family.
What were your major challenges in establishing your business?
The biggest challenge was that we were not restaurateurs. We were diving in to an industry, and a business, we had never been a part of before
What sets Chicken Salad Chick apart from other franchises?
Our healthy, made-from-scratch products we offer are unlike any other fast-casual concept in the restaurant world. Our culture and mission of spreading joy, enriching lives and serving others is something that drives our entire team and allows us to find amazing people who want to make a difference in the lives of everybody we touch. There may be some concepts out there with bits and pieces of what we do, but we truly believe we’re unique in the sense that we have the whole package.
What qualities do you look for in a potential franchisee?
We look for someone that has a passion for serving others. If they don’t, it’ll just be another job and that’s not enough for us to continue to live our culture from the inside out.
Where do you see the business growing in the future? Do you plan to take it out of the Southeast (SE)?
We will continue to grow to meet the demand of each community that want a Chick. While we’re currently solely in the SE, we hope to grow to be America’s favorite place for chicken salad.
What are some ways you foster loyalty with your customer base?
We love on them when they come in the door, give them a delicious and craveable product, and we reward and thank them through our CravingCredits loyalty program. Guests who are a part of the program earn points for every dollar they spend and often save them up for a great Chick cooler or cash off their check. They love it, and we love them for it!
To what do you attribute the company’s fast growth?
Great food, a comfortable environment and talented people from the restaurant level, to the franchisees, to the corporate staff.
What about the concept makes customers come back and franchisees want to partner with you?
We offer a unique experience and craveable product at an affordable price; all while in an environment that makes people feel valued and appreciated. Those things draw people in from all areas.
What do you see as challenges the restaurant industry is facing?
Concepts are grasping for a competitive edge. The consumer will benefit, but the marketplace is tough to rise above the rest.
Why was it important for you to set up the Chicken Salad Chick Foundation and do you feel it has achieved to date?
We have been so blessed by supportive communities, and the foundation allows us to support them back. The Chicken Salad Chick Foundation also helps us to complete our purpose to be able to use our brand to impact health concerns and further change the lives of our guests.
Do you feel doing good is good for business? Why?
If it affects the business, that’s great, but doing good is good for your soul and the souls of others. That’s why we do it.
What would you say is the perfect recipe for success?
There is no perfect recipe for success. For me, it’s about good people and making good decisions for the right reasons.