Small-Business Success Story: Chicken Salad Chick Shares a Taste of the South

Her obsession with chicken salad launched a fast-casual restaurant franchise.

Kiplinger's spoke with Stacy Brown (pictured above), 42, founder of the Auburn, Ala.-based restaurant franchise Chicken Salad Chick (opens in new tab), about how she went from being a stay-at-home mom to running her own company. Here's an excerpt from our interview:

How did you grow? We opened two more restaurants in Auburn to handle demand. Then we targeted other college towns. Visiting parents would ask, “What do we have to do to get one of these in Little Rock or Tuscaloosa?” Franchise requests poured in. We secured a local partner and investor and built our franchising infrastructure.

We got a lot of press, and many private-equity companies came knocking. We turned away all but one. Eagle Merchant Partners, of Atlanta, believed in what we do, valued our core values, respected what we had built and didn’t want to change it. We accepted their offer in May 2015. They bought majority ownership and infused more capital. In 2016, we had revenue of $12.4 million.

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Your role now? Kevin passed away from cancer in 2015. I still have a share of ownership, and I’m financially secure. Now, I’m the company’s brand voice to make sure we stay true to who we are.

What’s the goal? We want to be the best chicken salad in the nation. The cost to establish a franchise, depending on square footage, runs from $400,000 to $550,000 per restaurant. We hope to have 200 restaurants by 2020.

Are you sick of chicken salad? I was when I was the one cooking it. I probably didn’t eat it for a year and a half. When I got back to it, I thought, Darn, this is good. Really good.

Patricia Mertz Esswein
Contributing Writer, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Esswein joined Kiplinger in May 1984 as director of special publications and managing editor of Kiplinger Books. In 2004, she began covering real estate for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, writing about the housing market, buying and selling a home, getting a mortgage, and home improvement. Prior to joining Kiplinger, Esswein wrote and edited for Empire Sports, a monthly magazine covering sports and recreation in upstate New York. She holds a BA degree from Gustavus Adolphus College, in St. Peter, Minn., and an MA in magazine journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University.