“Better chicken” chain Slim Chickens wants to bring southern hospitality to the northeast, and it’s starting with 15 locations in New Jersey.
Jersey Boys LLC, a restaurant franchisee run by two homegrown brothers, expects to open one location in Somerset County in 2019 and two more in 2020 in Morris and Union counties.
The remaining 12 are expected after 2020.
When the brothers were introduced to Slim Chickens, they were blown away by the quality of the food, the atmosphere, the quality of the employees, and all the customers enjoying meals with their families.
“The thing about Slim Chickens,” said brother Paul Patel, “it appeals to everyone. I walked in there and the place was packed with people from kids to grandparents, from suit and ties to mothers with little kids. I even saw bikers in there enjoying a meal. The attractiveness is not just to a certain group of people, it attracts everyone. And the food is exceptional.”
While a 15-restaurant deal is on the larger size for restaurants just entering a market, Executive Director of Franchise Development Jackie Lobdell said it’s important to Slim Chickens to partner with multi-unit groups interesting in expanding the brand.
Lobdell reached out to the Jersey Boys personally about Slim Chickens’ expansion into New Jersey, having worked with them on various projects before. Jersey Boys currently owns eight other restaurants throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Dunkin’, Checkers, and a couple of delis.
“We want to give our franchisees room to breathe with finding real estate and a lot of room for growth in the markets we’re looking at,” Lobdell said. “We only partner with very experienced restaurateurs who are interested in really building our brand and developing out a large territory.”
New Jersey marks the brand’s 15th state. Franchisees currently operate more than 80 locations in the U.S. and two internationally. In the next decade, the brand plans an expansion to over 600 locations.
The state offers a dense market with little competition, according to Lobdell. Competitors Chick-fil- A and Raising Cane’s have minimal presence in North Jersey, and fast food purveyors like KFC and Popeye’s aren’t in the same category.
“Our food is made fresh to order, and that makes the world of difference when you’re coming in as a consumer. We lead with our food—what we put on our menu, where we get the chicken, how we cook the food. Our sauces were developed internally by our founders,” Lobdell said. “They’re very passionate about the food they put out, and certainly it does make all the difference when our customers try it for the first time. That’s why we have such a passionate following.”
It’s the food, according to Patel, and that southern style hospitality.
“I don’t see it anywhere in New Jersey. It’s the attitude of the people, the way you present yourself, the way you talk to people,” he said, of Slim Chickens’ staff checking up on patrons after they leave the check-out counter and get their food. “At a McDonalds or a Popeye’s, no one follows up. You eat the meal and you’re out the door.”