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Dave’s Hot Chicken Hopes for ‘Blow Your Head Off’ Launch


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Tenders & sliders from Dave’s Hot Chicken in L.A., whose second store opens today along with its official franchising kick-off.

There are seven levels of  “hot” at Dave’s Hot Chicken, which officially launches its franchise program today, with the Reaper so spicy it comes with a waiver.

 “You have to sign a general release of claims. It’s kind of fun and it’s kind of serious,” said CEO Bill Phelps. “It’s made with one of the hottest peppers in the world and if you’re not used to hot food it can blow your head off.”

Phelps is the co-founder of Wetzel’s Pretzels, which he launched with Rick Wetzel 25 years ago, and helped launch Blaze Pizza with Rick and Elise Wetzel. He’s employing lessons learned at those brands at Dave’s Hot Chicken, known for lines around the block in L.A. and fiery offerings from Chef Dave Kopushyan.

“I think it’s one of the best concepts I’ve come across in the last 15 years. The product is that good that it’s just off the charts,” Phelps said.

“At Wetzel’s, Rick Wetzel and I made every mistake in the book in the first five years and then it took us the next 10 years to fix everything and make it a great concept,” Phelps said. “With Blaze, Rick and Elise Wetzel came up with the plan and did the groundwork so we didn’t make the same mistakes—putting the systems in place, the marketing, the branding, and all the little details that make the Blaze concept so strong.”

The cost to open a Dave’s Hot Chicken ranges from $350,000 for a conversion to $850,000. The first multi-unit operator is signed, for 12 to 14 units in San Diego County, Phelps said, declining to reveal the name.

Celebrities are among the investors in Dave’s, including anchor, author and California’s former first lady Maria Shriver, Red Sox Owner Tom Werner, movie producer John Davis and actor Samuel L. Jackson. As with Blaze Pizza, where NBA star and investor LeBron James provides publicity, these high-profile people should draw a crowd. The Wetzels are not involved this time around, Phelps said.

“What we did very effectively at Blaze is get LeBron James to get the word out about the brand. We expect the same thing on this one,” Phelps said. “The viral marketing is the way the world is going, and it’s the Instagram spots and it’s the tweeting. And these people have up to 4- or 5 million followers, and they are able to post and bring interest to the brand.”

Phelps left his post as CEO of Wetzel’s Pretzels last year, ostensibly to semi-retire, but he’s revved up by the new challenge at Dave’s. “It’s really exciting. I have to work harder than I have in the last couple years, but it’s really, really fun,” he said.

 

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The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Tom KaiserTom Kaiser is senior editor of Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3209, or send story ideas to tkaiser@franchisetimes.com.
 
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
 
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
 
Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
 
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at
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