Despite a large footprint and 70-plus years of success, the brand believes it still has plenty of room to grow.
Chester’s Chicken has an impressive history that stacks up nicely against most any other brand in the quick-service space—not many can claim an 1,100-unit footprint and over 70 years of success. And yet, if you ask the brand’s executives, they believe Chester’s has a ton of more growth potential yet to go. Now their goal is to find more franchisees looking for a turnkey concept, with proven pedigree, who believe in the Chester’s brand and are willing to invest their time and money into it.
“This is a brand that’s constantly innovating,” says Catie Trent, director of business development at Chester’s Chicken. “It’s a turnkey concept with a small footprint that’s a great solution for a variety of formats—we are working to get that message out there, and that’s why we are seeing a lot of hard work turn into positive results.”
Chester’s Chicken has been quietly building momentum since it first opened in 1952, when W.O. Giles launched a fried donut concept in Montgomery, Alabama. Later, Giles started serving the fried chicken that has made Chester’s Chicken the success story that it is today. Three generations of family ownership later, Chester’s Chicken recently—in 2020—launched a brand refresh, focusing on remaking the menu and creating a new prototype, both of which would emphasize the brand’s never-frozen, fresh chicken ethos. The newer menu includes spins on fried chicken sandwiches—like a Buffalo Chicken Sandwich—as well as sides, like green beans and mac and cheese, that received a makeover. Other fan favorites include biscuits, potato wedges, and a recent award-winning LTO: The Honey Stung Fried Chicken Sandwich.
With small buildouts, Chester’s has always had success in c-stores, travel stations, and other non-traditional venues. The brand’s executive team says that the newer menu and prototype will help it grow not only in those types of locations, but they also have aspirations of future expansion into inline store space, or even non-traditional venues like airports or colleges and universities.
“People really see our brand as a go-to when it comes to the c-store space,” says Andy Chand, executive vice president of Chester’s Chicken. “That’s because when people put a Chester’s into their c-store, their sales immediately climb along with it—we actually just had an operator who saw sales triple in their location after adding a Chester’s. And we know we still have a lot of white space in that regard. But of course, we want to open inline stores as well—we feel like we’re a perfect fit for that, too, because it’s clear people love our brand in all different formats.”
One of the ways that Chester’s Chicken has begun growing its brand—and its AUVs—is by being more selective in the franchisees they are partnering with. With so much growth and expansion has come some challenges in finding the right partners, but being a bit more picky—”saying no more,” as Chand puts it—has steered the brand in a whole new direction.
“We’re looking at how active somebody is willing to be within the store,” Chand says. “And we’re seeing the effects already—our AUVs continue to climb as a result. When I show a prospective franchisee our FDD, I point to that item 19 (the top quartile of AUVs) and I say: this is where you can be. This is what we’re all striving for.”
That rise in AUVs might be why Chester’s is attracting so much franchising attention from multi-unit, multi-brand franchisees. Chester’s is already partnering with franchise owners who also own Little Caesar’s, Pizza Hut, Subway, or Godfather’s Pizza locations—to name just a few brands.
“One thing I can tell you is that our franchisees are very excited about the level of support they get from our operations team,” Trent says. “We have a lot of processes in place that set franchisees up for success—we’re looking to partner with folks who want to be a part of the brand, and they’re excited about the brand and all of the support and innovation that goes along with it.”
For more on franchising with Chester’s Chicken, visit the company’s franchising page.
By Charlie Pogacar