Brad DeLange believes he has a “home run” in Slim Chickens, the fast-growing chicken concept now expanding in Michigan after DeLange and his business partners signed a 25-unit development agreement for several southeast counties.
“We’re just so giddy and just so bottled up with energy for this,” said DeLange, who with his brother, Todd DeLange, and partner Doug Broadright will open Slim Chickens in the Detroit and Ann Arbor markets under their Slims Great Lakes group. The trio brings operating experience from their years as Jimmy John’s franchisees, with 10 stores under Integra Holdings Corp.
DeLange said he “started getting the itch” to explore a second brand about four years ago as areas for Jimmy John’s became saturated and his group didn’t want to open stores in far-flung markets. “We had entered Ohio and it just didn’t fit with our approach of being very hands-on operators,” said DeLange of the move recently to localize operations and sell three stores in the Cleveland metro.
He researched about a dozen brands, including Fayetteville, Arkansas-based Slim Chickens, going “really far down the line” with two different concepts before switching to Slim Chickens. “It was just everything we were looking for,” said DeLange as he ticked off the inviting atmosphere of the restaurants, emphasis on Southern hospitality and the food quality.
Slim Chickens, with more than 225 locations open, serves a menu of chicken tenders, wings, sandwiches and salads, along with chicken and waffles and sides such as fried pickles and fried okra. Its leadership, including Chief Operating Officer Sam Rothschild and Jackie Lobdell, vice president of franchise development, and conversations with existing franchisees likewise gave DeLange confidence in the brand.
“They’re the real deal. What you hear, what you talk about, that’s them,” he said.
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The business model, while a departure from the inline, takeout- and delivery-heavy style of Jimmy John’s, was ultimately another attractive feature. Most Slim Chickens restaurants are standalone units with drive-thrus and do more dine-in sales as part of the brand’s focus on appealing to families.
“It felt like the perfect blend,” said DeLange as he noted the company has also invested in technology to support more third-party delivery and takeout sales.
The operational differences also mean plenty of work on the front end, DeLange acknowledged, as the group is focused now on building teams from among its existing crew and hiring outside talent with experience running more complex restaurants. His brother will be the operating leader. “It will be very different from what we’re used to,” he said. “We’re very aware of that.”
Slim Chickens has just two locations open in Michigan, non-traditional units at Oakland University and Central Michigan University, meaning generation of brand awareness is another task. It’s one the group plans to tackle by continuing the high level of community involvement that’s helped make its Jimmy John’s stores successful.
“This is truly for the benefit of the community,” said DeLange. “It’s an opportunity to impact the people we brush shoulders with every day and we had to jump on it.”
While Slims Great Lakes has a 25-unit deal, it won’t rush development and is “slow rolling at the beginning” as it pursues an initial pipeline of locations, he said.
Slim Chickens has an initial investment range of $1.6 million to $4.4 million; average gross sales in 2022 were $2.5 million.