How Chicken Salad Chick became a fast-growing franchise

  • Stacy Brown was a recently divorced mother of three when she came up with an idea for a business making chicken salad at home and selling it door to door.
  • In an interview with Guy Raz’s “How I Built This” podcast, Brown told the emotional story of how close she came to losing everything, and how she put the company on a path to grow.
  • The brand now has more than 170 locations in 17 states and made more than $153 million in sales last year, the company told Business Insider.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Stacy Brown was a stay-at-home mother of three when the emotional and financial turmoil of a divorce pushed her to look for a way to provide for her kids.

As she explained in an interview with Guy Raz’s “How I Built This” podcast, she needed about $500 per month to support her family, so she turned to her lifelong appetite for chicken salad.

Her recipes were a hit, and before long she had turned a small project into a full-time job as the Chicken Salad Chick.

Progress wasn’t a straight line, however. Several major setbacks nearly ended the business before it truly got off the ground.

Here’s how Brown grew her brand from her home kitchen in Alabama in 2007 to a fast-growing restaurant franchise that told Business Insider it now has more than 170 locations across 17 states and sold more than $153 million last year.

Know your product, know your customer

Brown says her business idea arose fairly naturally when she considered how she could use her skills and experience to solve a problem that she knew many people shared.

“What have I perfected over these last years as a stay-at-home mom that people would value? Well, I knew that I was a good cook. And I happened to be obsessed with chicken salad,” she said.

A self-described chicken salad connoisseur, Brown incorporated all the best characteristics of the different versions of the Southern mainstay dish that she had enjoyed over the years.

She brought samples to friends and acquaintances at the hair salon and grocery store and took careful notes to further refine the recipe. Then, she stepped up production.

“I would be with the kids during the day. And when I would put them to bed, I would start cooking,” Brown said. Each morning before school, “we would go knocking on doors. They would sit in the car, and I would go knocking on a door with a basket.”

Refine your process

Sales were picking up, but soon Brown hit her first major roadblock: the local health inspector.

Selling homemade food wasn’t exactly legal, so Stacy teamed up with a family friend, Kevin Brown (whom she married in 2008) who helped her rent and renovate an 800-square-foot “shack” with a drive-thru window where The Chicken Salad Chick could operate as a legitimate business.

For the grand opening they cooked up 40 pounds of chicken salad and filled the

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IN THE KITCHEN with Fareway: Sheet Pan Jerk Chicken with Sweet Potatoes

Whitney Hemmer showed us how to make them Tuesday, September 22nd.

September is Family Meals Month 

  • Regular family meals have been linked to positive outcomes we all want for our children: higher grades and self-esteem, healthier eating habits and less risky behavior.  

  • Children and adolescents who share family meals three or more times per week are more likely to be in a normal weight range and have healthier dietary and eating patterns than those who share fewer than three meals together.  

  • Children who grow up sharing family meals are more likely to exhibit sharing, respect, and fairness.  

  • Adults and children who eat at home regularly tend to eat more fruits and vegetables.  

Sheet Pan Jerk Chicken with Sweet Potatoes  

Total time: 50 minutes  

1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes  

Salt and pepper, to taste  

½ tsp. red pepper flakes 

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts  

Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss potatoes with oil, salt and pepper. Place on a large sheet pan and roast for 15 minutes. While potatoes cook, combine lemon juice, sugar, paprika, salt, pepper, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, thyme, allspice and chicken. Add chicken to sheet pan and roast for an additional 20 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F and the potatoes are fork tender. 

Nutrition information per serving: 335 calories; 6.1 g fat; 0.6 g saturated fat; 120 mg cholesterol; 533.6 mg sodium; 26.2 g carbohydrate; 3.8 g fiber; 3.9 g sugar; 45 g protein. 

Source Article

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Home to roost: A Bridgewater barn goes from chicken house to stylish business

The barn, initially built as a carriage house for a horse and buggy, was part of the 2-acre property in Bridgewater that Hoffman purchased 16 years ago. The main attraction was the 1882 Gothic Revival farmhouse, but it was the whole kit and caboodle that drew him. “The listing said ‘farmhouse with barn and two acres,’ ” Hoffman recalled. “That’s all I needed to know.”

Spurred by his expanding business and the barn’s growing disrepair — frost had recently caused its foundation to crack — Hoffman decided to renovate. He stripped it to the shell. Everything needed updating, from the compromised foundation to the rickety roof. Hoffman shored up the structure, built an entry addition to accommodate a new stairway to the loft, installed a new standing-seam metal roof, and pulled off old Cape Cod-style shingles in favor of clapboard siding similar to the original exterior cladding.

Hoffman also reinstated a pair of boarded-up windows after seeing a copy of a hand-drawn map from 1890 that included his property. “It showed windows on either side of the barn door, which weren’t there when I bought it,” he said. To top it, Hoffman designed a cupola with glass on all four sides, which he mounted on the roof at 45 degrees. “It reflects my style of looking at things from a different perspective,” he said. “It also shows we can do difficult things that require lots of math.”

Inside, Hoffman infused a fresh take on the barn’s antiquity while preserving its original character. “I didn’t want to lose the look of the 140-year-old raw, brown wood,” he said. Still, the building needed to be insulated. The solution? Hoffman insulated the underside of the roof with closed-cell foam, then enclosed it with rough-sawn pine that he stained to look old. “I came up with my own special sauce to antique it,” he said. His method involved applying the stain with rollers, as well as hand-rubbing it with rags — some before the boards were installed and some afterward. He also antiqued the new rafters and collar ties needed to ensure stability. “It’s respectably close to the existing wood,” Hoffman said.

For the walls, Hoffman reused the original pine sheathing boards he had pulled off the exterior. This is supplemented with rough-sawn shiplap sourced at Gurney’s Saw Mill Inc., a sixth-generation-run mill in Freetown. “It adds a small-town touch to this renovation story,” Hoffman said.

Although he’s generally of the “you don’t paint old wood” mind-set, interior designer Tracy Parkinson of Nest + Co., whom Hoffman engaged to help with the interior furnishings and finishes, advised him to paint some of the shiplap in the loft white. “Light bounces off the wall now and really brightens the office area,” Parkinson said.

Parkinson also persuaded him to put up a bit of wallpaper. “I just couldn’t envision it,” Hoffman said. “Wallpaper doesn’t belong in a barn.” But when she showed him her pick — a pattern with barn blueprints by Chip and Joanna Gaines’

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Somerville favorite Highland Kitchen temporarily turns into Highland Chicken

“We thought it would be fun to change it up and simplify things, and it could be a model for when the weather turns cold,” he says. And it’s not a huge stretch — the longtime neighborhood restaurant has always served fried chicken. (Romano also runs Highland Fried in Inman Square, where fried chicken is a starring attraction.)

Mark Romano, owner of Highland Chicken, in the newly constructed outdoor seating.
Mark Romano, owner of Highland Chicken, in the newly constructed outdoor seating. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

He’ll peddle poultry for a while longer, and then he might try something new, like pizza or tacos. As for when the restaurant will return to its old model, he’s not sure.

“We’ll come back whenever we can fully come back,” he says. Until then, walk up and order or snag an outdoor table on the small sidewalk patio.

What to eat: Fried chicken in sandwich, tender, or wing form. Definitely get the Korean-style fried chicken sandwich with pickled veggies; a healthy slather of sweetish kewpie mayo; and gochujang, the slightly salty, slightly tangy Korean chili paste. This sandwich is made with all-white breast meat, FYI; some might prefer the fattier, darker thigh meat. It’s lightly fried and not too heavy — a hungry human could possibly eat two. There’s also the classic fried chicken sandwich with shredded lettuce, pickles, and spicy buffalo sauce on the side (it’s really spicy, so watch out). Fries are thin, crispy, and salty. Pro tip: Order a side of pineapple sweet-and-sour sauce for dunking. Not the neon pink stuff you might find at the bottom of a greasy takeout container, this is a golden, syrupy concoction with real chunks of pineapple — imagine your Nana’s fruit cup mixed with something from McDonald’s. There are also pickle-brined tenders and wings, with your choice of sauce (barbecue, bleu cheese, honey mustard, ranch, sriracha mayo, and that delicious pineapple).

Grilled chicken club.
Grilled chicken club.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Healthier eaters can get grilled chicken sandwiches or tenders with a honey-lemon marinade; a black bean veggie burger with guacamole; and an array of salads. Try the shaved kale and Brussels sprouts with hazelnuts and pecorino in lemon vinaigrette — it’s tart and acidic enough to offset all that fried goodness. Most everything on the menu is under $10.

What to drink: Highland Kitchen and Highland Fried are known for their tiki drinks. Here, get cocktails to go (served in plastic takeout cups); my dining companion and I split a Mai Tai Dragon ($12) with orange curacao and a healthy splash of Orgeat syrup that easily — and tipsily — served two. Or just grab a $2, 12-ounce can of Budweiser or a $6 milkshake.

The takeaway: A tasty pivot, though it’s sad to see Highland Kitchen, with its only-in-Somerville bar scene and jukebox, temporarily dimmed. But in a chaotic world, there are worse things than eating takeout fried chicken.

Highland Chicken, 150 Highland Ave., Somerville, 617-625-1131, www.highlandkitchen.com


Kara Baskin can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.

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