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Layne’s Chicken Fingers’ Unique Culture and Persistent Evolution Leads To Incredible Growth

In just two years, the concept grew from eight open restaurants to 10 open and an additional 63 sold, much in part due to its agility amidst supply chain challenges, introduction of new menu items and emphasis on the Layne’s way.

By Morgan Wood1851 Franchise Contributor
SPONSOREDUpdated 3:15PM 04/11/23

Layne’s Chicken Fingers, the Soon to be Famous™ fried chicken restaurant, was born in 1994 in College Station, Texas. However, in 2021, the company’s leadership shifted its focus to making the brand franchisable. The idea to pursue the franchise model was born in 2018, but the pandemic threw a wrench in Layne’s plans. When recovery from the pandemic began, the leadership team got back to work.

“We knew we needed to create systems that would allow us to take the brand to franchisees,” explained Samir Wattar, COO of Layne’s. “Voice of the brand, systems, supply chain and the way we market all needed to be finalized. We established all of those in 2021 and streamlined distribution to set the foundation. In 2022, we started implementing all of those and began to look at product offerings that would differentiate us and take us to the next level.”

At the end of 2021, the brand had eight open restaurants and three interested franchisees in the development pipeline. That year, the average unit volume of corporate stores was nearly $1.5 million.

Growth in 2022

As the leadership team implemented new systems and leveraged powerful partnerships through a year of supply chain uncertainty, the Layne’s footprint continued to grow. A key contribution to this growth was the introduction of the spicy chicken menu items, launched in January of 2022, which soon came to account for over 20% of sales.

“We are targeting both a new, younger consumer that likes spicy foods, but also our existing customer,” Wattar noted. “If they give us an extra visit on their cycle because we have a different flavor now, that’s a win. We have people who used to come bi-weekly, and now they come every week because of the variety.”

The spicy chicken is breaded with a unique-to-Layne’s mix of cayenne pepper and other spices and herbs that create a hot and flavorful taste.

“At the end of the day, the taste palette of the younger generation just requires more flavor. You can see that in every part of life,” Garrett Reed, CEO of Layne’s, added. “When I was a kid, it was just ‘Gatorade,’ no flavors. You had Coke, but there were no flavors. And over time, this desire for flavor has built up. Now, everybody’s looking for this punch in the mouth.”

While this offering was a hit with guests, it caught the attention of prospective franchisees, as well. That said, the team at Layne’s isn’t interested in changing things “just because.”

“We are never interested in change for the sake of change alone,” Reed explained. “We would rather offer a set number of absolutely perfected items than constantly roll out hit-and-miss experiments, but we do look closely at the trends. At that time, the obvious addressable trend was the demand for bold flavors. It was quite obvious to us that this meant spicy chicken in our segment.”

The biggest hurdle of the year was certainly supply chain challenges.

“I hate this word, but we pivoted. We really did,” Wattar said. “We managed completely differently. Rather than looking at food costs and labor costs separately, we looked at prime cost — the combination of food and labor costs.”

This allowed the brand to take a more holistic approach to processes and continued growth. In a space where many concepts simply could not survive the consequences of the broken supply chain, Layne’s continued to grow.

By the end of 2022, Layne’s had seen a 7% increase in average unit volume and had a growing number of franchisees in the pipeline.

What Will the Brand Take on This Year?

“All of the work we did in the previous years is paying off,” Wattar said. “We are seeing double-digit sales and traffic increases, and costs are at a level we’ve never seen before and we have multiple restaurants in development.”

Wattar says the leadership team is aiming to see a 10% increase in average unit volume, compared to 2022, at the end of the year.

Currently, the network includes 10 open locations and 63 more sold, with nine or 10 of those at some stage of development. While the operational side of things has played a crucial role in both the brand’s and individual franchisees’ continued success, the larger Layne’s philosophy is just as crucial, Reed said. 

“I firmly believe that measured and thoughtful growth is what has made, and will continue to make, us what we are,” he explained. “Success at Layne’s is not, ‘Open 500 units in the next two years.’ Success at Layne’s is, ‘Does every guest have a great experience? Does every franchisee have a great experience with our corporate team?’”

In addition to its measurable successes, the culture of the company, which exists at all levels, is what sets the concept apart even further. As they look to the future, Reed and Wattar agree that the fantastic, expert leadership team is only one of the driving factors.

“What does Layne’s mean? I can’t explain it without saying ‘Layne’s,’” Reed added.

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