What: An ethical chicken shop in Bristol. Happy Bird is moments from Clifton Down Station in a busy part of the city that’s home to lots of pubs and bar – a textbook location for a business of this type. It’s not the first time someone has had a stab at a guilt-free chicken shop in Bristol. Michelin-starred chef Josh Eggleton opened Chicken Shed in 2015 in the city’s Harbourside area but replaced it with vegetable-centric restaurant Root a few years later citing difficulties aligning a fried chicken restaurant with high welfare products (more on that one later).
Who: Former corporate lawyer Adam Batty. He has a background in hospitality having held key legal roles at Domino’s and pub giant Mitchells & Butlers. His wife Liz - another corporate lawyer - is also involved. Chris Moore, the former CEO of Domino’s and an investor in a number of other food businesses, is non-executive chairman.
The vibe: In a word, slick. The space has a high-end finish to it with white tiling, dark grey walls and neon lighting. There are signs on the wall that shout about the quality and provenance of the chicken (it’s from Yorkshire, is free-to-roam, and apparently eats a lot of herbs). The branding is first-rate, too. The look of the place squawks scalability…
Happy Bird's thigh burger
The food: At first glance it’s a traditional looking offer: wings, tenders, burgers and fries. But there are a number of quirks, the majority of which are designed to make Happy Bird more accessible to those that want to eat healthily. It’s not possible to buy wings that are deep-fried (they’re grilled instead) and customers can swap fried chicken for grilled chicken (sans skin) in most dishes. The seven homemade sauces are a highlight, as they should be for £1 a pop.
And another thing: The two principle challenges with using quality, free range birds is that the meat is far more costly and trickier to cook (battery farmed chicken is well suited to deep frying because it is very tender). The extra cost results in a price point that is at least twice as high as regular chicken shops. As the success of such businesses attests, most chicken shop patrons don’t care where their chicken comes from. They just want it to be very cheap. Of course, some people will be persuaded to trade up, but the crossover between those that want to eat fried chicken and those that are prepared to pay a big premium to eat ethical fried chicken is limited. What brands like Happy Bird are doing is laudable, but they will have to fight hard to make their businesses take flight.