The founders of hipster-fried chicken restaurant Chick 'n' Sours are hoping to redefine the chicken shop with their new 'guilt-free' fast-casual concept CHIK'N. On London's Baker Street, the inaugural CHIK'N site is a hot wing's throw from KFC and a few doors down from Nando's and will serve a high quality chicken sandwich for less than £5.
Why move into more mainstream territory?
CC: We don’t feel like chicken shops are being done properly. It’s a broken culture. The product is probably flown in from Brazil or Thailand. The people that own them have no connection with the core product. They don’t really care.
DW: I can’t get my head round the economics of it. For these places to be able to make money, selling it at that price, it must be so bad. We’re not really thinking about them as competition to CHIK’N, but we do know that a lot of people are doing fried chicken very badly.
CC: I don’t put KFC and Nando’s in that bracket, though. They’re well run and very successful. They have amazing systems and they’re run by people that do care. KFC is doing a lot of good work to change its identity, too. The new urban fit-outs they’re rolling out looks alright. Although I don’t think they’re going to suddenly sweep up all the hipsters by looking a bit more East London.”
How will the CHICK’N menu differ to that of Chick ‘n’ Sours?
CC: Chick ’n’ Sours is about explosive flavours. This is not that. The food will be much simpler. We’ve got a straight-up sandwich, and we also do a spicy one and a barbecue one. But with that said, everything we do at CHIK’N will be based on our learnings from Chick ‘n’ Sours.
DW: The decor and general ambience will reference Chick ’n’ Sours but it won’t be exactly the same. It will be contemporary but not as eclectic. It will be more branded in feel.
Tell us about how CHIK’N will work...
CC: We’re not following the fast food model. We will be a chute-less operation with everything made to order. We’ll be able to get breakfast out in three minutes and a sandwich in five. Unlike most other chicken shops, the kitchen will be fully open. You will be able to see the whole process from the counter.
DW: This hasn’t happened overnight. It’s been a year in the making. It’s a totally different dynamic to Chick ’n’ Sours. It’s not chef driven and there’s no front of house in the traditional sense.
With that in mind how have you found staffing?
DW: We’ve been pleasantly surprised. We need young, unexperienced but we’re paying them well - £9.50 an hour potentially rising north of £10 with bonuses. All the staff will also be paid for three eight-hour days a year to do charity and community projects. We want to change the culture that’s in quicker service restaurants at the moment. For it to work, we are going to need them to work harder, because if we’re going to pay them more we need to do less with more people. We want people to come for a job and stay for a career.
Will you be serving free-range chicken?
CC: Yes. We’re sourcing it from Castlemead Farm in Somerset. A lot of restaurants say they can’t serve free-range chicken at a reasonable price point. It is possible because we’re doing it – 100g of white meat in a sandwich for less than a fiver. We’re already in discussions about investing in the business to ensure a regular supply as the concept scales.
Do you have any more sites in the pipeline?
We need to smash this one first. We do have one in the pipeline but we haven’t committed just yet. We want to go outside of London soon, we won’t hang around.
The first CHIK’N opens later this month in London’s Baker Street. Pick up the June issue of Restaurant magazine to read the full interview.