Slim Chickens started in 2003 with the first location in Fayetteville, Arkansas, but the chain is now making its way west and into the Beehive State.
The Southern-style chicken restaurant started heavily franchising in 2011 and currently has 110 locations in the United States as well as a couple international spots. The chain also has 500 committed restaurants set to be developed in the next five years, according to Byron Wheeler of the LOVE Restaurant Group.
Wheeler and his partners have taken on the developmental rights for the brand in Utah, seeing a demographic and growth factor that make a perfect match for the brand.
He said the demographics in Salt Lake and Utah counties, along with the rapid growth throughout the state and some family of a partner in Spanish Fork made the move into Utah easy.
The group is opening a restaurant in Herriman next week along with a deal signed to open a store in Saratoga Springs for 2021. Wheeler added the chain also has plans to bring 13-15 restaurants into Utah over the next five years.
Two of those locations are currently being negotiated in Utah County, which would add to the upcoming Saratoga Springs restaurant and the already-open Lehi location.
“The Lehi store opened on the Fourth of July in 2020, so we’ve got just over half a year underneath us, and it’s just been a fantastic process,” Wheeler said. “In relation to some of our other markets across the country, we’ve found it very easy and enjoyable to engage with the local chamber of commerce, our local high school and to have some business-to-business partnerships that drive each business forward. We’re looking forward to continuing to have that kind of role in the communities we enter.”
The opening of the Lehi restaurant brought 95 new jobs to Utah County and the Saratoga Springs location is expected to bring in 100 more jobs. Those opportunities will expand with more restaurants in the county, with an estimated 100 jobs per location.
Wheeler owns a number of restaurant brands over a number of different dining styles, but he said the quality of the product is what attracted him to get involved with Slim Chickens.
“We flew to Arkansas, tried the product ourselves and we knew that this was a best-in-class product that none of our competitors can match,” Wheeler said. “We thought this was going to be a winning product, and if we can put chicken in people’s mouths, we’re going to win this fight.”
When asked about what to expect when stepping foot into a Slim Chickens, Wheeler was quick to bring up Southern hospitality along with the Southern food.
That’s also something separating Slim Chickens from other chicken-centric fast food restaurants, according to Wheeler.
While he enjoys eating at Raising Cane’s and Chick-fil-A, Wheeler boasted about the quality of the product at Slim Chickens.
“We think that we have a larger and more diverse menu than some of our primary competitors, and we think we lead with a great product and fantastic Southern hospitality,” Wheeler said. “We think there’s room in these markets for these great concepts.”
He and his wife, Kristen, were also named the Developers of the Year at the Slim Chickens annual conference.
Wheeler characterized the award as humbling.
“It let us know that we are doing things right, and we were given that award not only based off the number of restaurants we opened in 2020, which was four, but the quality of the building and the timeliness of the construction,” Wheeler said.
Along with the expansion, Wheeler also enjoys partnering with local contractors and subcontractors to keep the money in the market where the locations will be opening.
As for those looking for a suggestion on their first visit to Slim Chickens, Wheeler said one of his go-to orders is the classic meal with four chicken tenders, Texas toast and fries or ranch chips. He also enjoys the spicy sauces like sriracha garlic or the mango habanero.