Chicken Shop

Chicken Shop will open its first site outside of London next year, according to CEO John Nelson.

The fast-casual brand has targeted 70 sites in the next six to seven years, with 8-10 to open next year, and 15-16 sites per year going forward.

“We’re going at a rate of knots,” Nelson tells MCA, in an interview at the business’ original Baker Street location. Having undergone a significant rebrand, it has seen cumulative like-for-like sales of 60% this year, positioning it well for continued growth.

CHIK’N was the brainchild of Chick ‘n’ Sours founders David Wolanski and Carl Clarke, the latter of whom continues to play a major role in the menu direction of Chicken Shop.

The rebranding to Chicken Shop in 2022 followed a strategic partnership with Soho House Group, bringing a “fresh, funkier” look. Restaurants have been given a stripped back design with a more urban feel, and all venues now have self-service order screens.

The group is now led by Nelson, who previously spent five years as operations director at Nando’s and another five as CEO of Mod Pizza.

Currently operating six locations including Soho, Islington and Putney, primarily in high-footfall city centre areas, Nelson reveals that its top targets outside London are Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham.

However, he emphasises a strategic approach to national expansion; “We’re not going to start planting flags all over the country. We’re going to own home first,” he says, adding, “we are still in brand- building mode.”

In London, this means focusing on prime high-street locations initially, with longer-term plans to include cinema schemes and out-of-town retail parks.

Nelson envisions following in the footsteps of its “big brother” Five Guys (also backed by Carphone Warehouse mogul Sir Charles Dunstone) when it comes to international expansion.

The Middle East is particularly attractive for Chicken Shop, due to its significant Muslim customer base and halal-menu, however, “We’re open to any international market where the brand could travel,” the CEO notes.

Nelson is keen to reiterate the brand’s London origins, particularly amid a flurry of US entrants to the chicken market. “The brand originated in London, and there’s something to say about being proud of that London vibe and attitude.

“Londoners are a pretty savvy group, if it works here, it’ll work anywhere,” he adds.

Recent brand partnerships have been inclined to hit a London-centric note and have had to “work for the brand”, elevating its profile, whilst maximising “fun”.

“We would like to play in culture, music, and sports,” he adds. “It is about little things we can do to elevate the brand and get the word out there, but it’s always London-based.

Last year, a notable partnership with Oreo led to the creation of the OREO-twist, combining the cookie with Chicken Shop’s fried chicken, whilst catering a private party for Beyonce at the Flannels X Renaissance pop-up on Oxford Street, massively boosted visibility and led to Chicken Shop becoming the second most searched restaurant brand in London. “That went ballistic,” Nelson says.

Aside from building brand awareness, these campaigns can reap more tangible rewards. Off the back of a collaboration with ArsenalFanTV, came the Volcano Burger; a chicken fillet, lettuce, volcano ranch, volcano sauce, cheese, volcano slaw, which now mixes in at about 14% of sales.

Chicken Shop’s new brand identity is reflected in premium menu offerings, which have expanded beyond chicken burgers to include rice bowls and wraps, growing appeal in different day parts, and catering to consumer dietary preferences.

“We were previously underrepresented with our lunch product, so that has made a significant difference,” Nelson says.

 Targeting the 18-24 age group, which makes up 50-60% of sales, Chicken Shop runs numerous value incentives to attract students, such as a free fries promotion. “When the students are in town, Chicken Shop is the place to go. We run lots of incentives and make it fun and interesting for them,” Nelson says.

The brand’s appeal extends to office workers, with future locations to be strategically chosen for their proximity to office spaces.

Looking forward, Chicken Shop is committed to continuous menu innovation and maintaining high standards, with a focus on its freshly prepared homemade sauces, and cooked-to-order chicken. “We’re the guys giving fried chicken a good name.

“Our mission is to get people thinking about fried chicken in a different way. It doesn’t have to be a hangover cure; it doesn’t have to be regretful if it’s done properly.

“We want to continue to wow our existing customer base, and that’s by not standing still on new product innovation,” Nelson asserts.