Bourbon Street. Jackson Square. Café Du Monde.
Willie’s Chicken Shack.
While the first three have been firmly cemented as synonymous with New Orleans for decades, Willie’s Chicken Shack has quickly entrenched itself as a part of New Orleans culture in just six years since opening. For both residents of the city and tourists, the brand’s “slap yo’ mamma good” fried chicken, party atmosphere, and recognizable branding behind mascot Willie, is as much engrained in the New Orleans experience as the jazz music soaring through the air on Bourbon Street.
But now, Willie’s Chicken Shack ownership, is focused on bringing their successful New Orleans concept to the rest of the country through franchising.
“It’s a fresh concept,” said Aaron Motwani, Founder and Owner of Willie’s Chicken Shack. “What we have now is a very unique New Orleans brand that everyone around the country will take a liking to. The uniqueness and the culture behind the brand will really translate well all over the county.”
Today the group has seven locations across the French Quarter and found early success by offering a better late-night option than what was previously available.
“Initially, it was just a concept that we thought New Orleans needed – especially Bourbon Street. When it was a late night, after 10 or 11 o’clock, all you could get is a hot dog that wasn’t very appetizing or a slice of pizza that had been sitting under a lamp. Our chicken is fresh, our seafood is fresh. We put beers and daiquiris in there with a great food concept and it exploded from there. Sales are at an all-time high,” said Motwani.
The company has spent the last six years perfecting their model to prepare it for franchising. They established signature recipes featuring New Orleans seasoning, signature drinks, and signature sauce. The strength of the product has also allowed the group to expand their relevance beyond just late-night. The model hits on four dayparts from breakfast to late-night which enhances profitability and creates a model that can be replicated in other cities across the U.S. The group has received inquiries for the last 3 to 4 years but now feels they are ready to take the step into franchising and see opportunity for franchise development in major southeast cities such as Dallas and Atlanta. However, the company is steadily receiving franchise interest from all areas of the country, including the West Coast, Northeast and Midwest.
“If we open a Willie’s in Chicago, people will see it and know they’re going to get quality New Orleans food,” said Motwani.
While the partners feel that they’re ready to take on the world, they are approaching the franchise expansion of Willie’s Chicken Shack strategically. They have turned to franchising industry veteran Mike LaRue and Ignite Franchise Group to help align their vision with the right expansion plan and to aid in the attraction and assessment of interested prospects to grow the brand’s footprint with the right franchisees. The team is focused on qualified candidates in the Midwest, Florida, and in medium sized metropolitan areas. They aim to open one new corporate location outside of New Orleans before the end of 2018 and want to establish a few franchise deals to move toward opening those by the end of 2018 or early 2019.
Besides the Willie’s concept, the partners also own five Halal Guys locations in Louisiana with two more in Miami coming soon. So, they understand the ins-and-outs of the franchise model, and also place a high value on making sure that wherever they open a Willie’s that they are a positive force in the community.
“In business and in life, our group believes in trying to figure out ways to help out the community,” said Motwani. “Right now, a large part of the Willie’s culture is that we help out in New Orleans – we donate food, invest money, find ways to give back. We want to make a huge difference in these markets we expand to. Willie’s is the vehicle that enables us to work with franchisees hand-in-hand to aid in their communities. That is the ultimate goal for us. We want to make a huge difference.”
Photo courtesy of Willie's Chicken Shack's Facebook.