What: The new incarnation of CHIK’N, now known as Chicken Shop – the brand name and IP of which was first established by Soho House back in 2012. While the original Chicken Shop centred on rotisserie chicken, this new tack continues CHIK’N's focus on fried chicken. As well as the new launch in Notting Hill, CHIK’N’s former sites in Baker Street, Soho and Islington have been refurbished and rebranded, with Baker Street and Islington having already reopened and the Soho restaurant expected to relaunch before the end of the month.
Who: CHIK’N was the brainchild of Chick 'n' Sours founders David Wolanski and Carl Clarke, the latter of whom will continue to play a major role in the menu direction of Chicken Shop. The group is now led by John Nelson, who previously spent five years as operations director at Nando’s and another five as CEO of Mod Pizza before joining CHIK’N in 2021. Having relaunched the group under the Chicken Shop brand, Nelson is currently planning a significant expansion drive with a view to growing Chicken Shop as a premium alternative to KFC, which continues to rule the roost in this category. A further four Chicken Shops are in the pipeline for this year already, in Camden, Putney, Whitechapel (a former Soho House Chicken Shop restaurant) and Wimbledon.
The menu: As part of the rebrand, Nelson and Clarke have shaken things up in the kitchen, primarily by bringing all the prep in house. Sauces are prepared fresh, daily; chicken is floured on site by the kitchen team; and all meals will be cooked to order. The menu itself, though, is much the same, with the signature Straight Up burger featuring alongside chicken tenders and wings, all of which is available to order with fries and a range of Asian-inspired sauces including sticky sichuan and siracha sour cream. For vegetarians and vegans, options include the No Way Gangnam, a spicy plant-based fillet paired with gojuchang mayo and kimchi slaw; and a Korean rice box with kimchi.
The vibe: Restaurants have been given a stripped back design with a more urban feel (bare brick walls scattered with graffiti), which will be a template for each future opening. Described as 'fast casual meets QSR', all venues now have self-service order screens.
And another thing: The decision to change the name was spurred in part by Kellogg's new Incogmeato range of plant-based nuggets and tenders, which are sold under the Chik’n moniker. According to Nelson, CHIK’N's acquisition of the Chicken Shop brand name and IP came about following a conversation between the group's backer Sir Charles Dunstone, and Soho House founder Nick Jones. Under the new partnership, Chicken Shop’s Straight Up will also feature on the menu of nine Soho House venues – predominately in London.
CHIK’N has so far struggled to get off the ground, but with a new direction and brand identity does it finally have what it needs to take flight? asks James McAllister
When David Wolanski and Carl Clarke launched CHIK’N back in 2017 they had lofty ambitions. Opening on Baker Street, no more than a hot wing’s throw from KFC and only a few doors down from Nando’s, the pair aimed to redefine the chicken shop model for the fast-casual market. Their plan was ambitious - to build a nationwide estate with the number of sites in the triple figures.
The brand never found its wings, though. The original restaurant was forced to close, temporarily, just a few days after it first opened as it was unable to keep up with demand. Attempts to expand soon stalled, and the group only ever made it to three sites… until now.
John Nelson, Chicken Shop’s CEO, has said confidently that he wants to see the brand become ‘the Five Guys’ of the fried chicken market. He’s certainly a man who knows a thing or two about growing chicken-focused restaurants, having spent five years as operations director at Nando’s.
Speaking recently to MCA, BigHospitality’s sister site, Nelson spoke of having ‘really exciting plans’ for Chicken Shop. “There is a real opportunity for premium chicken burgers. We are trying to raise the bar and create an environment that fits the calibre of the product – we think we are on the right track.”
Working with Clarke (Wolanski has taken a step back in order to focus on the operations at Chick ‘n’ Sours), Nelson has overhauled the brand in order to ensure it is ripe for expansion. As well as a new name, elements of the operation have been refined and the menu has evolved – with a number of vegetarian and vegan options added, and grilled burger options introduced as an alternative to deep fried. Meanwhile, the partnership with Soho House has given Chicken Shop the space to reach a wider market, adding further cachet to the brand as it looks to grow.
“We will be doing a lot of stuff with them over the course of next year. It’s great for us as it adds a lot of credibility, in terms of the premium end, to the calibre of our product.”
Where Chicken Shop may struggle, though, is carving out a distinctive name for itself in an ever more-crowded market. While the decision to adopt such a generic name may reflect the group’s ambition to become the biggest player in this field, it’s got its work cut out.
In the past year or so, brands including Thunderbird Fried Chicken, Butchies, The Bok Shop, Coqfighter and WingShack Co have all tried to muscle in on the more premium fried chicken space. Yet Chicken Shop has plenty of reasons to be optimistic about its growth potential. While CHIK’N focused on growing a central London footprint, Nelson is looking to the suburbs and also beyond the capital, with a view to establishing at least one site outside of London by the end of next year.
And then there’s the price point, which neatly undercuts some of the other premium offerings in the space – the Straight Up burger coming in at £6.50, and no burger going beyond the £8.50 mark.
One fly in the ointment, however, will be the emergence of US chain Popeyes on these shores late last year. The fried chicken giant plans to open up to 300 restaurants across the country in the coming years, and suburbs appear so far to be its sweet spot. Whether Chicken Shop’s attempt to take flight is a case of too little too late or perfectly timed to ride the new fried chicken wave will soon become clear.
88 Notting Hill Gate, London W11 3HP