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Latter-Day Fried Chicken Shop Has Second Go at Reinventing Fast Food

Chik’n’s owners admit they got it wrong first time around in Baker Street as they prepare to open on Wardour Street in Soho

London fried chicken restaurant Chik’n will open in Soho CHIK’N [Official Photo]

The owners of alt-chicken shop “Chik’n” have announced the opening of a long-awaited second restaurant. Founders Carl Clarke and David Wolanski, who also own the slightly less fast-food-focused Chick ‘n’ Sours brand, have announced that they will take over burger restaurant Brgr Co on Wardour Street in Soho this May. It joins the original branch of Chik’n on Baker Street, which launched apparently as a first-of-many almost two years ago. Once again, it is described in official materials as a “fried chicken sandwich joint like no other.”

The duo have been honest about what they got wrong the first (and second) time around and how they now hope to create a sustainable business, which is well-placed to grow.

Wolanski was frank about their past failures and learnings.

“Let’s be honest, in the beginning, we were pretty rubbish, we got a fair bit of it wrong. It was as if Specsavers done fried chicken. We didn’t know what we were doing, as CHIK’N is totally different to a traditional restaurant model we knew. It’s been an emotional journey, but now we know better. This is fast food not rushed food. This is future fast food.”

The duo, who have always been entertained by their proximity to McDonald’s, KFC, and Chipotle in Baker Street — when it first launched in 2017, Clarke said: “We put our cock on the blocks...” — continue to use this competition as a source of inspiration, as a reminder that they’re trying to reframe fast food as progressive.

Initially, they said, “the brand didn’t really feel like ours. But we’ve worked hard to create a menu and a brand identity packed with personality, attitude, big flavours, and good sourcing. We’re still here today thriving amongst the giants.”

Breakfast sandwich and coffee at Chik’n
Chik’n [Official Photo]

Now, as they move into one of the most concentrated areas of fast-casual dining in the city, the duo is keen to stress what’s new and what’s different, and also how they want to create a company that is supportive of its staff.

In addition to using high-welfare meat, eschewing mass-produced commodity products, they say, regarding staff, they are “putting preventative measures in place around depression and anxiety by taking steps to make [staff] feel included, have a voice, and create a happy working environment for them.”

“The struggles being faced by many of the current younger generation aren’t alien to [Clarke and Wolanski] and they understand the importance of having an environment where speaking openly and honestly about [depression and anxiety] is encouraged.”

They say the business employed 60 young people, 70 percent of whom were women, at the start; many had never worked in a kitchen before. “They were trained not only prepare and cook a tricky product but also to care why they were doing what they were doing,” Wolanski says. He added that despite challenges, 70 percent of those original staff members remain employed by the company, with many having been promoted to more senior roles.

As regards the food, a press release yesterday said that Clarke is “is on a personal mission” to create what he calls, unequivocally, “the best fried chicken sandwich in the fucking world.” His menu includes the following:

“The Straight Up” — “honed to within an inch of its life and Carl reckons it’s the best chicken sandwich he’s ever tasted.” New is the “CHIK’N Chop,” a new hot sandwich with something called “spice up your life samurai sauce.”

The chef is alleged to have “obsessed over the frying process to keep elevating the product and the team is now using the latest technology and state of the art pressure fryers to take their famous crunch to the #nextlevel.” Flavours have been “dialled up.”

“Mainstream soft drinks” will not be available. The team prefers to sell “craft beers from places such as Good Things Brewing and ethical soda brand Square Root Soda instead.” They hope to eventually partner with Uber Eats and Deliveroo, but only if those two food delivery services can guarantee delivery via bicycles, in order to “avoid unnecessary pollution and noise.”

Wolanski added: “Being a born and bred Londoner, Soho has always been a part of my personal and professional life. I cut my teeth working at L’Escargot on Greek St... It’s going to be fantastic to be so central and in a place that teems with life. We’re going to be doing tons of other stuff in the month of April within our local community too, so watch this space.”