From rags to riches: the rise of fried chicken
‘Premiumising informality’ is a phrase that is well known in the UK restaurant industry. It summarises a common trend over the last half-decade to take a humble food and raise it up to make it a better, more exciting and desirable version of itself.
We’ve seen beer and ales get the Brewdog treatment, and even burgers and lobsters have paired up in an unlikely – yet highly profitable – combination. Now it’s happening to one of London’s favourite fast food staples: fried chicken. Establishments like Nick Jones’s Soho mainstay, Chicken Shop, and the more recent editions of Paul and Cara’s Bird, and Mother Clucker demonstrate the food’s evolution. Here’s the rise of the chicken shop.
Taking root mainly in deprived urban centers, chicken shops like Dixie, Mississippi, KFC and Chicken Cottage quickly established themselves in a number of London areas, including Peckham, Hackney and Brixton, and since then, their numbers have exploded due to extremely high demand.
As of 2008, it was estimated that there were 1,700 fried chicken shops lining the high streets of the UK, and that number has been increasing ever since.
The fried chicken appeal
You might be wondering what makes fried chicken so popular. The food’s ubiquity comes down to a number of factors including a low price point, its filling nature, and its ability to lure in customers after a visit to the pub.
Overall, fried chicken sells because it’s fast, cheap and filling.
A new generation of fried chicken restaurants
The desire to premiumise chicken started off in 2012, with restaurateurs Nick Jones, Jackson Boxer, and William Leigh and Scott Collins all opened chicken restaurants:
- Jones – founder of Soho House members’ club and restaurants – opened Chicken Shop in Soho, and has now expanded the chain to Tooting, Whitechapel and even a number of US-based locations.
- Boxer has collaborated with Rita’s Bar & Dining in Dalston to produce gourmet-style chicken perfect for East London’s hipster population.
- Leigh and Collins opened Wishbone in September 2012. More recently, the restaurant assumed the name Chicken Liquor to fit in with their Meat Liquor brand, and sells only free range chicken.
More recently, we’ve seen a new breed of chicken shop open with a desire to sell premiumised, free-range fried chicken:
- Mother Clucker opened officially in March of 2013 and operates out of a converted van in Truman Brewery in East London, and from The Stillery in Camden. According to their Facebook page, for 2015, they’re streamlining their van operation so that they can serve more people quicker – another demonstration of increasing demand.
- With Bird, their aim is right there in the slogan: ‘The best free range fried chicken you’ve ever tasted’. Based out of the ever-trendy Kingsland Road in Dalston, they also offer a delivery service to expand their reach.
Restaurateurs might flock to establish their own fried chicken restaurants, but with cheap fried chicken embedded so heavily into (particularly South) London culture, we predict that even with the rise of premiumised fried chicken restaurants, we won’t see the decline of the humble chicken shop. If anything, we will likely see both markets expand, making each viable profit makers.
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