North Miami-based Chicken Kitchen hopes to expand into Chicago, Las Vegas
By Susan Stabley
The founder of the North Miami-based Chicken Kitchen says he's ready to go national with his grilled "Chop Chop" dishes.
The company is negotiating with potential franchisees in Chicago, Las Vegas and Tampa, said company founder Christian de BerdouarČ. He said three restaurants have opened recently in Miami-Dade County. The company is unveiling a new logo and slogan this week, created by Mr. de BerdouarČ, in local TV commercials.
Chicken Kitchen has 24 stores in South Florida and one each in Gainesville and Tallahassee, Mr. de BerdouarČ said. Four are company-owned, and the rest are owned by franchisees.
Mr. de BerdouarČ said his company has saturated South Florida and he is looking elsewhere to expand.
The private company averages $1.1 million in per-store revenue annually, he said. Chicken Kitchen sells 20-year franchise rights for $30,000 and charges $300,000 to open a restaurant.
Mr. de BerdouarČ said he will invest $150,000 to $200,000 in each of his new markets. He said he is anticipating four stores to open in Chicago, two in Las Vegas and five in Tampa.
The three new South Florida stores are at 13507 Biscayne Blvd. in North Miami, 1051 NW 14th St., across from Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, and 726-A Crandon Blvd. in Key Biscayne.
New products, including multigrain Panini Grillers, a children's menu and a low-fat version of Chicken Kitchen's mustard curry sauce, which will be available for purchase by the bottle, are in development, he said.
Mr. de BerdouarČ has a training program that he calls Chicken College and said he has trademarked the name chickmobile and plans to have a four-wheeled fowl hitting the streets as a rolling advertisement.
Commercials begin airing this week with the chain's modernized identity to give it a more upscale feel, he said. The company slogan is being changed from "Your Healthy Addiction" to "Fresh. Healthy. Simply Delicious."
"I felt that the look of the old stores were too fast-foodish," he said "We really need to identify ourselves as different from another one of those greasy joints. We've gone more earthy, more upscale."
Mr. de BerdouarČ said he thought his stores needed " to go to the gym and put on some lipstick." Chicken Kitchen offered a great product, he said, but a lousy look, so he spent a year-and-a-half and $150,000 to $200,000 to give it a face-lift. All of his stores will be refashioned, and the franchises will have five years to upgrade.
He said that despite all the changes, menu prices will hold steady. "It's still as cheap as traditional fast food," he said.
Mr. de BerdouarČ was nominated for Ernst & Young 2003 Entrepreneur of The Year award in the retail division. Announcement of the winners will be at a ceremony in Orlando on June 19, said Ernst & Young marketing manager Lori Taylor. "I am very, very honored," he said. "I had a couple tears when I was actually nominated. It was very emotional."
Mr. de BerdouarČ started Chicken Kitchen in 1983 in New York and moved it to South Florida five years later. The eatery has positioned itself as fast-casual, offering most meals for $2.99 to $7.99.
Mr. de BerdouarČ has lost control of his company more than once, struggling through bankruptcy and a divorce in 1992 before regaining control in 1997.
"A week after the divorce, I only had 20 bucks in my pocket," he said. "It was a long road, very painful, but I wouldn't have it another way."
Mr. de BerdouarČ said he's gotten many inquiries from major companies looking to buy him out but said he'd rather keep the reigns of his company.
"We've had some large companies want to buy us... major venture companies and rivals have expressed more than interest," he said. But "I enjoy my freedom. I've worked very hard for it, for the freedom private ownership gives you," he said. "I've just worked too hard for someone to come in and tell me what to do."