Menu, Culture and Recession-Resistant Business Model Attracted Chicken Salad Chick Franchisee Melissa Hardcastle
The Chicken Salad Chick franchise tantalized Melissa Hardcastle with its tasty cuisine and recession-resistant business model. She decided to bite, starting from scratch by building her first Chicken Salad Chick restaurant in Jonesboro, Ark.
Over the next four years, Hardcastle invested in two more Chicken Salad Chick franchises. The second one opened in Conway, Ark., in October 2020. She acquired the third, located in Fayetteville, Ark., from its former owners in August 2022. And she plans to expand her portfolio further.
Emotion and Sustainability Tip the Scales
Hardcastle bought into the Chicken Salad Chick franchise for a combination of emotional and financial reasons. “I love the fresh products, the culture, the bright and cheerful décor, and the story of how the brand started.”
The back story is that founder Stacy Brown, on a quest for the perfect chicken salad recipe, had a lightbulb moment that different people like different ingredients in their chicken salad. That’s a key attraction for Chicken Salad Chick customers – a dozen chicken salad choices served up in scoops and sandwiches. (The restaurants also serve pimento cheese sandwiches, soups and side dishes such as macaroni and cheese and fresh fruit; everything is prepared fresh daily.)
But the business model was a huge factor, too, Hardcastle says. “Although I was looking for a business that I could be passionate about, I wanted something sustainable and in demand. I believed a mid-priced fast-casual restaurant would be less affected by an economic downturn. Also, with the boom of internet commerce, I believed a food establishment would be insulated from this pressure [internet competition] felt by other consumer industries.”
Hardcastle, whose career previously had included teaching, co-owning a rental company and working for a bank start-up, admits to a learning curve relating to the launch and operation of a restaurant. Some of the hurdles related to construction; others cropped up with nailing the day-to-day processes.
With the first restaurant, “I decided to purchase an acre of land and develop the property on my own. At that time, there had not been another Chicken Salad Chick franchise owner to do this previously,” she explains. “The amount of due diligence in choosing the right architect, engineers and contractors was time-consuming but well worth the time invested. Also, there was great partnership with corporate in planning the design as this store was to serve as the prototype for standalone stores.”
After opening that first Chicken Salad Chick franchise in November 2018, she found “there were many more details involved in operating a restaurant than I had ever dreamed. Learning how to manage labor, manage inventory and follow safety procedures – all while providing the customer a superb experience and exceeding the brand standards – was a challenge.”
Opening More Locations
The second and third restaurants have been “much easier,” Hardcastle says. “Opening the second was much more efficient. Policies and procedures had been established. I knew the staffing levels needed for optimum daily labor deployment, and also I knew the characteristics that make great managers and team members.”
Hardcastle says every day is different, but every day she likes “meeting the guests, spending time with the teams, and sharing the Chick experience with them. Also, I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when I see our managers and team members – there are 75 of them – master their roles, execute well, and create the outcome of beautiful plates and happy guests. It’s like a puzzle. If I can get each piece to fit together how it should, we will have the finished product of a well-run, successful business.”
Running her Chicken Salad Chick franchises has led her to develop “relationships with guests, vendors, the business community, the Chicken Salad Chick corporate office and my team members. I spend a lot of time communicating with individuals from these groups as well as meeting with my managers and working in the stores. I have territory rights to other cities in Northwest Arkansas and am currently working with real estate developers to find locations for additional stores.”
Hardcastle says her family has steadfastly backed her Chicken Salad Chick franchise journey. “My children are adults, age 26 and 30, with their own careers. They are both business-minded and supportive of my new career. My father, Tommy, who is 80, works in my Jonesboro store approximately four days per week and drives over an hour to be there. Working with my father has been one of the greatest pleasures to come from me opening this restaurant.”
Her dad, a business owner for decades, “has been a helpful sounding board, a traveling partner when looking at new locations, a delivery driver, a dining room attendant, an errand runner, and will happily do any task. I do believe his favorite position is talking to the guests and telling jokes at their tables. My dad is a cancer survivor and does not take life for granted. My team members and the guests absolutely love him. He is patient, kind, and listens more than he speaks. I strive to be more like him!”
Dad, Other Franchisees Are Mentors
Hardcastle’s dad is part of her “personal board of directors,” an informal group of mentors who provide a trusted outside perspective when she weighs important decisions. She also consults the “incredible community of Chicken Salad Chick owners, who are generous with their time in helping new owners get started. We talk regularly and share ideas, problem-solve and plan for the future. The world of Chicken Salad Chick is a great world to be in, and I count my blessings every day.”
To find out more about a Chicken Salad Chick franchise, visit www.chickensaladchick.com/franchising/.