updated - May 19, 2013 Sunday EDT
Kevin Brown, the man who helped bankroll the new franchise Chicken Salad Chick, had the foresight to marry the woman behind the recipes. Though many Southerners will tell you they receive rave reviews on their chicken salad, according to Brown, his wife Stacy is the real deal. She's the Chicken Salad Chick.
The mother of three began selling chicken salad from her kitchen after a divorce left her with bills to pay. By operating out of her own home, Stacy was able to remain a stay at home mom while cutting down overhead—there was none. After she sent platters of the chicken salad to her childrens’ elementary school, the talk didn’t stay in the teacher’s lounge. Word of her delicious chicken salad quickly spread, and orders began to pile up. Then an unforeseen problem arose: news also spread to the city’s health department. At that time, Kevin and Stacy were only friends. Now, when he recounts the beginning of the business venture, he also remembers Stacy's naivete fondly. “Did you know you can’t do that?” she asked him. Kevin, who worked at a software company at the time, did know that. But he knew something else: this was a viable, exciting business. Many restauarants in the South have a chicken salad sandwich on the menu, but most offer few variations. What few variations exist are rarely made to order. If the customer doesn’t like onions in their chicken salad, too bad—they must choose something else on the menu.
Soon, Stacy started experimenting with new and different recipes, using everything from Jalapenos to fruits and nuts. When they began looking for real estate, Stacy was sure of at least one thing: they needed a drive thru so soccer moms wouldn’t have to waste the time coming inside. A soccer mom herself, Stacy knew how appealing this would be.
Unfortunately, there were a few bumps in the road before Stacy and Kevin could celebrate. After a lease was signed in September of 2007, Kevin flew to Atlanta to meet his company’s new vice president. When he arrived, the vice president informed him his position had been eliminated. “I was beside myself,” he remembers. “I had just committed my savings and retirement to the concept.”
Still passionate about the concept, Kevin had a new idea: do a build-out on the restaurant, which they couldn’t have afforded to sub out. Of course, not only was Kevin passionate about the idea, he was passionate about Stacy too. While working on the project, they fell in love and eventually married.
The two had their grand opening in the college town of Auburn in January of 2008, and sold out of chicken salad on the first day. The take-out concept was a hit, and evolved into a fast-casual dining experience the demographic loved. Chicken Salad Chick began franchising in 2012, and has sold 54 units in 5 southern states. 90% of sales are made from chicken salad, and the restaurant has no shortage of choices: 15 types. Using one basic menu item is not unheard of, when you consider Chick-Fil-A and In-N-Out Burger, which prospered from chicken sandwiches and burgers respectively, only doing variations later.
The couple has cause to celebrate now, despite the rough patches. You must love the product, Kevin says, though it might help if you love your business partner too.
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