Chicken, Spicy or Not, Is Hot at Local Restaurants – Indianapolis Business Journal

LaToya Williams

In the words of LaToya Williams, owner of Indianapolis restaurant The Grub House, “The chicken does the job.”

And she’s not the only restaurateur to think so.

Chicken is more or less everywhere – and it’s growing in the Indianapolis area, where no less than a dozen chicken-centric restaurants have just opened or are planning to do so soon.

According to Tastewise, an AI-based platform that studies restaurant menus, chicken is served in nearly 90% of American restaurants, surpassing beef (70%), fish (62%) and pork (45%). ).

So it’s no surprise that 31 vendors – The Grub House included – will be taking part in Saturday’s Chicken & Beer Fest on Monument Circle. The event is presented by online food news platform EatHere, in conjunction with Daredevil Brewing Co.

“People are comfortable with chicken,” Williams said. “It can be prepared a million different ways. I think it’s something that brings people together.

Mike Gillis of the food blog “Where’s Mike G?” says that chicken is a food that everyone has in common.

“Chicken is one of those universal things across all cultures,” Gillis said.

On Indianapolis restaurant menus, you can find chicken curry, chicken and waffles, chicken teriyaki skewers, chicken biscuits, barbecue chicken pizza, Thai chicken bao buns, fries with jerk chicken and chicken tamales.

But Nashville’s fried offerings, wings and hot flavors dominate a wave of chicken-themed restaurants that have opened locally in recent months or are on the way. Among them:

Dave’s Hot Chicken, 530 Massachusetts Ave., Suite 150, with a planned Broad Ripple location;

Flamin’ Chicken & Shakes, 5510 W. 38th St.;

World Famous Hotboys, 1004 Virginia Ave.;

Naptown Hot Chicken, Indianapolis City Market and second location opening Aug. 15 at Circle Center Mall;

Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, opening in Avon and Noblesville by December;

Slim Chickens, which will open in Traders Point in February, followed by locations in Westfield, Greenwood, Franklin and West Lafayette.

Naptown Hot Chicken, which specializes in barbecue sauce with spicy Nashville seasoning accents, will be at the Chicken & Beer Fest. Joella’s Hot Chicken, a Kentucky-based company that brought its tangy flavors from Nashville to central Indiana in 2017, will also participate.

The festival kicked off last year at Pan Am Plaza as EatHere’s first large-scale public event.

“We knew we were going to try to grow this thing, or at least give people something they can look forward to every year,” said Bradley Houser, who co-founded EatHere with Austin Burris.

The hot stuff

The hot Nashville style is defined as chicken marinated in a watery mixture of seasonings, then floured, fried and sprinkled with a spicy batter and served with pickles on white bread.

Jim Bittick

Jim Bitticks, president of Dave’s Hot Chicken, said his company’s menu is limited to a single cut of meat.

“We focus on the best part of the chicken, which is the chicken tenderloin, and we do it either a la carte or on a martin potato roll sandwich,” Bitticks said.

Launched as a pop-up stand in a parking lot in Los Angeles, Dave’s Hot Chicken was founded in 2017 by Arman Oganesyan, David Kopushyan and Tommy Rubenyan.

Kopushyan, the “Dave” of the company’s name, has designed seven different spice levels, topped with the Reaper level and its inclusion of Carolina Reaper pepper, named the hottest pepper by Guinness World Records.

“With our Reaper, you have to sign a waiver before you can order it,” Bitticks said.

Indianapolis food writer Gillis said his trips to Nashville, Tennessee convinced him that two of the city’s most famous hot chicken restaurants were the best. Prince’s Hot Chicken, founded in the 1930s, and 10-year-old Hattie B’s Hot Chicken have a similar rivalry to Chicago’s deep-dish pizza restaurants Giordano’s and Lou Malnati’s.

“People like one or the other,” Gillis said.

While Giordano’s and Lou Malnati’s have locations in Indianapolis, no Prince’s or Hattie B’s locations are north of Nashville.

Still, Gillis said Indianapolis is becoming a crowded market for Nashville’s pungent flavors made with cayenne pepper, dry mustard powder and sugar.

“It’s something new and different,” he said. “Over the next six months to a year, we will see what the newcomers end up doing. Running a restaurant and really making money is tough because there’s a lot of competition, but especially when you’re competing in the same field.

It would be reasonable for all hot chicken restaurants in Nashville to initially connect with consumers in Indianapolis, Gillis said.

“It’s great to have options,” he said. “But for the regular consumer who’s tried them all, if that’s what you want to do, you’re going to pick your favorite and that’s where you’re going to eat.”

chicken fights

When Dave’s Hot Chicken opens at Noodles & Co.’s former Broad Ripple site, the restaurant will be less than a block from a Joella’s Hot Chicken location.

Bitticks said his company was ready to compete for customers.

“If the food is really good, the rest falls into place,” he said. “For Dave’s, this is our winning formula. The quality of the food is excellent and the taste is excellent. »

Grub House owner Williams, who sells a Philadelphia-themed chicken sandwich with green peppers, onions, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers, provolone cheese and homemade gravy, said she doesn’t wasn’t necessarily a fan of the influx of chicken-themed restaurants.

“I feel like we have chicken,” she said. “So we’re getting more of what Indianapolis already has. Indianapolis misses so much more. But we get more chicken.

There is evidence, however, that the people of Indianapolis can’t get enough.

On Thursday, Chick-fil-A opened a restaurant at 10 E. Washington St., less than a block from a popular Chick-fil-A inside the Circle Center Mall. The Atlanta-based company has more than 30 restaurants in central Indiana.

KFC, founded by Indiana native Harland Sanders, has been serving chicken to customers in central Indiana for decades. Miami-based Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen has more than a dozen locations in the Indianapolis area, and Atlanta-based Church’s Chicken operates nine restaurants in Indianapolis. Additionally, Zaxby’s, a Georgian company specializing in chicken fingers, has five local restaurants.

Still, more are coming, including Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, a Louisiana-based company founded in 1996 that ranked No. 33 in this year’s Technomic Top 500 Chain Restaurant report.

The chain has approximately 640 restaurants in more than 30 states. It added 52 locations in 2020, 69 in 2021, and is on track to open around 100 this year, with at least 40 open so far.

The restaurant is now announcing managers to oversee the Noblesville and Avon restaurants that will open later this year.

Bitticks, manager of Dave’s Hot Chicken, calls Raising Cane “20 years of overnight success.”

Chicken fingers, made from tender, are popular among youngsters who aren’t the most adventurous in trying new foods.

“I have four kids and two of my sons are just sweet guys,” Bitticks said. “The offerings taste great, and they’re pretty basic and easy to serve.”

EatHere co-founders Austin Burris, left, and Bradley Houser teamed up with 31 vendors for their second annual Chicken and Beer Festival, scheduled for Saturday on Monument Circle. (Photo courtesy of EatHere)

on the circle

Chicken & Beer Fest co-founder Houser said the ease of preparation is the reason Ale Emporium will be serving tenders instead of wings at the festival.

The restaurant’s famous Hermanaki sauce, designed by Herman Perryman of Ale Emporium, will be applied to the offerings.

Other top vendors include a Milktooth/Beholder combo stand and pizza specialist King Dough.

Admission to the festival from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. is $35 or $45 for VIP tickets. General admission tickets include four chicken samples and five beer samples. VIP tickets include early entry at 2 p.m., six chicken samples, and five beer samples.

A hot wing eating contest will take place on a stage, where DJs Space Bunz and Annie D will provide the festival soundtrack.

Houser said this weekend’s Gen Con event at the Indiana Convention Center could help boost attendance at Chicken & Beer Fest.

“I’m not saying we’re reliant or reliant on Gen Con traffic, but if you walk around downtown, you’ll probably hit the Circle,” Houser said. “You might smell food and you’re going to be like, ‘What is that? And we will have curiosity without an appointment. »•

Gladys T. Hensley