Get All Access for $5/mo

Here's Why Chicken Franchises Are Booming Entrepreneur's Franchise 500 ranking tracks the hottest food categories, and we've seen chicken surging for years. Here's why.

By Kim Kavin

This story appears in the June 2022 issue of Start Up.

Dron | Shutterstock

If you look at how burger franchises developed, there were two big waves. First was the McDonald's and Burger King wave, with a business model that helped parents get burgers with their kids at an affordable price. Then came the gourmet burger wave, with brands such as Five Guys and Burger 21 adding toppings like garlic aioli and cilantro cream.

Experts say that same business pattern is now repeating with chicken. Whereas brands such as KFC, Popeyes, and Church's Chicken are long-established and beloved, a new wave of franchises like Pollo Campero, El Pollo Loco, and the Shaquille O'Neal–backed Big Chicken are offering sandwiches with smashed avocado and low-calorie, fire-grilled chicken breast dinners.

"We call it the better chicken category," says Sam Rothschild, chief operating officer at Slim Chickens, a 19-year-old company that has 165-plus locations in the U.S. and the U.K., with more than 800 restaurants under signed commitments. "We offer a different lineup of products that are of better quality than those of the people who have been around a long time."

Christina Coy, vice president of marketing at the Korean fried-chicken franchise Bonchon, says consumers' evolving paletttes are also driving growth. "People's taste buds are changing," she says. "They're more willing to try new flavors. That's why more consumers are getting excited about fried chicken. It's Korean fried chicken or Nashville hot fried chicken. There's just so many different ways now to have fried chicken."

Related: Why the Franchise Industry Will Boom in 2021

Bonchon has been in the U.S. since 2006. It now has more than 380 locations worldwide, with 115 in America. Same-store sales were up 17.5% in 2021 versus 2019. That kind of success is luring even more competitors, Coy says. "We're definitely starting to see more companies, and especially ones coming over from Korea and other Asian companies that do fried chicken," she says. "They're mainly hitting the East and West coasts."

Those new franchises are going to keep coming, according to Mark Siebert, CEO of iFranchise Group, a franchise development and consulting firm. There's widespread consumer demand for the product right now, along with advantages in leasing space.

"When you have a restaurant in a prime location that did not survive COVID, suddenly the landlords have to make good deals for restaurateurs in prime locations," he says. "Not only are franchisees looking at these, but the multifranchise operators are jumping on them."

Henry Lee is one such franchisee who spotted opportunity. After working for Microsoft and PricewaterhouseCoopers, he opened his first Bonchon in 2018 in Denver. His second opened in Aurora in 2020, and he is now opening two more in Colorado, with one of them slated to open in late May.

Related: 5 Things You Need to Know Before Investing in a Chick-fil-A Franchise

"There's American fried chicken, and then there's Korean fried chicken. There's a huge distinction," he says. "In my opinion, Korean fried chicken is going to take over the scene. The texture is a light kind of crispy, and the flavors are very unique."

Lee says he loves the interactions he has with customers, especially when they try Korean fried chicken for the first time. "They usually come back the next week. Sometimes it's the next day," he says. "It's an extremely addictive product. And I know the feeling. I have a few wings with the soy-garlic sauce to get my fix on."

Kim Kavin was an editorial staffer at newspapers and magazines for a decade before going full-time freelance in 2003. She has written for The Washington Post, NBC’s ThinkThe Hill and more about the need to protect independent contractor careers. She co-founded the grassroots, nonpartisan, self-funded group Fight For Freelancers.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick


How to Close the Trust Gap Between You and Your Team — 5 Strategies for Leaders

Trust is tanking in your workplace. Here's how to fix it and become the boss your team needs to succeed.

Health & Wellness

Get a Year of Unlimited Yoga Class Downloads for Only $23 Through June 17

Regular exercise has been proven to increase energy and focus, both of which are valuable to entrepreneurs and well-known benefits of yoga.

Growing a Business

He Immigrated to the U.S. and Got a Job at McDonald's — Then His Aversion to Being 'Too Comfortable' Led to a Fast-Growing Company That's Hard to Miss

Voyo Popovic launched his moving and storage company in 2018 — and he's been innovating in the industry ever since.

Business News

'Passing By Wide Margins': Elon Musk Celebrates His 'Guaranteed Win' of the Highest Pay Package in U.S. Corporate History

Musk's Tesla pay package is almost 140 times higher than the annual pay of other high-performing CEOs.

Starting a Business

I Left the Corporate World to Start a Chicken Coop Business — Here Are 3 Valuable Lessons I Learned Along the Way

Board meetings were traded for barnyards as a thriving new venture hatched.

Business Culture

Why Remote Work Policies Are Good For the Environment

Remote work policies are crucial for ESG guidelines. Embracing remote work can positively impact your business and employees.