Research firm Euromonitor International released new consumer foodservice industry data earlier this year that said fast-casual dining was the fastest growing segment of the foodservice industry, growing more than 10 percent from 2014 to 2015.
Fort Worth man
Flying high with chicken
Maybe it started with that guy in the white suit. Maybe it was that crispy Church’s. Whatever it was, chicken joined America’s love affair with fast food in the ‘60s and sales have been flying high ever since.
So it’s no surprise that entrepreneurs have been taking a flyer on working chicken into the recent fast-casual restaurant trend. It hasn’t been easy. The Colonel’s own company, KFC, attempted one with a test restaurant in Arlington recently, but that one lost altitude fast.
One fast-casual chain is making a big push in North Texas and, no surprise, it’s got a Southern twang like the Colonel’s – Slim Chickens. CNBC recently named Slim Chickens as one of the top six franchises to watch in 2016.
Fayetteville, Arkansas-based Slim Chickens, founded in 2003, is expected to add six locations this year and two more by next spring in North Texas. There are locations in Fort Worth (close to Keller), Hurst, Mansfield and Weatherford. Others are on the way.
One of the big area franchisers is a Fort Worth native who got hooked on the chain while working at the University of Arkansas.
“I was a fan of the brand and the food before I got involved with the company,” said Flint Harris.
With a master’s degree in sports management and a doctorate in adult education, Harris may not seem like the ideal candidate to own a chicken franchise. Sports is still a big interest of his. He had a position with the University of Arkansas’ Razorback Athletics, then moved to Waco and joined Baylor University as the Director of Student Athletic Services. In 2011, Harris moved back to Fayetteville and entered the then-hot cupcake business, purchasing dessert franchise Bliss Cupcakes. He and a partner, Max Moore, who had a background in hotel and restaurant franchising, iced their initial foray into franchising – growing the brand from one to six stores.
While working at Bliss, the two ended up dining frequently at Slim Chickens, which was close by. Man cannot, apparently, live by cupcakes alone.
“We realized we really liked it – I mean really liked it. We ate there a lot,” he said. “So we starting talking to the Slim Chickens owners about franchising.”
The fast-casual Slim Chickens locations – at about 2,922 square feet for a typical restaurant – are a bit different than some typical fast-casual restaurants. They serve liquor and cater to families as well the college-age crowd.
“We were Slim Chickens customers before we were franchisees, and that is a testament to our confidence in the brand’s ability to shake up the restaurant scene in Fort Worth,” said Harris.
Slim Chickens, which now has over 30 locations around the country, features down-home Southern recipes – either hand-breaded or grilled chicken tenders paired with a choice of eight handmade dipping sauces or seven wing sauces. But it’s not all cookie-cutter meals. There are also regional variations. For instance, the Texas locations offer chicken and waffles with the waffles in the shape of – you guessed it – Texas.
“That one’s been a real winner for us,” Harris says.
Slim Chickens also offers fresh salads, wraps, and chicken and waffles. Keeping that Southern feel, several of the dessert offerings are served in Mason jars.
For Harris, it’s a business and a labor of love.
“I love the food and the people I work with,” he says. “Can’t ask for much more than that.”