Southern Classic Chicken
Fanning shares his journey with the family-owned business and how it is ready to expand through franchising.
1851 Franchise: Tell us about the history and founding of Southern Classic Chicken
Alan Fanning, Founding Partner at Southern Classic Chicken: Southern Classic Chicken was started by my father Howard Fanning, my uncle Leon Fanning and his son Brandon Fanning, in Shreveport, Louisiana. It has been a family institution in North Louisiana for the past 35 years. They launched the concept in 1989 on the foundation of four things: quality, the absolute best fried chicken, classic southern side items and cajun seasoned french fries. And they wanted to do it primarily through simple drive-thru and walk-up models.
Over the years, we expanded in the South and now have 18 locations. But our streamlined model and menu has basically stayed the same for the past three decades. When my father and uncle decided to retire, they handed over the business to myself, Brandon and Alex. When we came into the business, our goal was to bring a little extra energy and insight to help grow the business.
1851 Franchise: Is family a big part of this business?
Alan Fanning: Absolutely. Myself, my two cousins, my uncle and my father are all in this. We’ve learned a lot over the years and, as part of this family and business, I’ve been around chicken all my life. I’m just a very small part of this organization. We all work great together, have the same mindset and treat our employees like family.
Now, after being owner-operators for decades, we are ready to take our lessons and become a stepping stone for fellow entrepreneurs who want to make money for their family’s future and legacy. We’ve had a great past few years, and we are looking forward to the future of the brand.
1851 Franchise: Tell us about the brand’s story with franchising.
Alan Fanning: Around five years ago, we began toying with the idea of franchising as a way to expand. We have always been very hands-on with the business, but that means there is a limit to how much we can grow by ourselves. We get calls from people all over the U.S. begging us to bring this concept to their city. We know this business can be successful outside of our reach, which is why we’ve decided to franchise.
So, we began working with Tom O’Keefe, who has more than 30 years of franchise experience as a franchise attorney and has held executive roles at brands such as Popeyes and Church’s Chicken. As we started expanding operations through franchising, we hired Tom as a Managing Director to help us launch our growth plans. The first franchisees joined our family in Louisiana in 2021.
While other restaurant concepts struggled through the pandemic, we proved to be well-positioned because our business has always relied heavily on the drive-thru and walk-up model, and with our affordable price point, we saw system-wide drive-thru sales increase by more than 20%. We’re now seeing a lot of franchisee candidates who are really intrigued by our performance during and post-COVID. The pandemic was really a test for the brand more than anything else. No one is pandemic-proof, but we made it through that time successfully. Now, we are ahead of the curve with a model that everyone is chasing.
1851 Franchise: What are some of your key differentiators?
Alan Fanning: One of the main things that makes us who we are is our drive-thru and walk-up model. People love it, and It helps us streamline our day to day operations. We have a few restaurants that include dining rooms, but we move faster in our drive-thru and walk-up only locations.
The longevity of our team is another differentiator. Many of our Team Members have been with us over 20 years or more. We had a Team Member who retired not too long ago who was with us for over 30 years. We enjoy people, and we like to keep the same people around us who are doing what they know how to do. Southern Classic Chicken is more of a people business.
We’ve also done a good job at crafting and then living to our brand's Mission, Vision and Values. I believe that successful brands are the ones that speak a common language and have a common set of beliefs. Our core values represent our DNA and the family-first culture we’ve worked hard to establish.
1851 Franchise: When the business was started, was the mindset always to keep the menu simple?
Alan Fanning: Yes. From the very first day, my uncle said he wanted to “do chicken and do it right.” That’s the way it started and the way it was always intended. We want our product to be just right. We’re a fried chicken business that specializes in traditional Louisiana-style fried chicken and quality, classic southern sides. Our promise is to give communities the experience and value that builds trust and goodwill today and for generations to come. We do fried chicken, and we do it well.
1851 Franchise: How has your dream changed since being associated with this business again?
Alan Fanning: My dream changed in college when I realized that, in the fields I was studying, you were just a number to a lot of people. I don’t like being alone and just a number. I like being around people. People make my life better, and I wanted to be around my family and friends, helping everyone around me succeed. That’s what it’s all about to me, and the major reason why I chose to step into the family business, and build Southern Classic Chicken with my family.
1851 Franchise: How do you approach real estate?
Alan Fanning: You have to be flexible, but you have to go back to the numbers – the right amount of population within the area, etc. We were looking at staying in areas with higher populations at first, but we’ve started looking at it a little differently. We’re trying to find those niche spots where people aren’t looking, but the numbers are still there. We’re not going to be right beside some of the bigger players — we’ve never done that. But we have a really good fan following because of our commitment to quality and the Louisiana roots of Southern Classic Chicken.
1851 Franchise: When you decided to franchise, what were the numbers you had in mind?
Alan Fanning: We have never wanted to grow fast because we want to get to know everyone we are working with and ensure they are the right fit for what we’re building as a family. That said, we do have some specific growth goals. For example, we have 18 locations right now, and we would love to see that matched with franchises. But I don't want to put an exact number on it. More than a growth number, the most important thing to us is finding the right people, with the right culture and experience to build with Southern Classic Chicken.
1851 Franchise: Do you try the competition out and compare it to your product?
Alan Fanning: Absolutely. I travel all over. If I drive by a chicken place, I have to stop and try it. I’ve been around chicken my whole life. It’s hard to look at someone else’s product and not think that you can do it better. But I'm not perfect either. I give people credit where credit is due.
1851 Franchise: Tell me about your recent branding update. What inspired it?
Alan Fanning: We wanted something that was visually enticing to customers, yet true to our roots. It definitely was time to give the signage a facelift. It took a lot of encouragement from others but we understood why we had to do it. We didn’t want customers to see us as generic, so we worked with a team to update our colors, logos and branding.
We also unveiled a new store prototype in Bossier City, Louisiana, that we see as the future of the brand. We have been able to increase operational efficiency through elements such as a new floor plan and a dual drive-thru lane to fit up to 30 cars in each lot, which keeps people out of the street. Shrinking the footprint of the building has also allowed us to have a much higher throughput.
1851 Franchise: What are a few of your most important milestones over the last 5 years?
Alan Fanning: I would say that the new, refreshed branding strategy and building prototype are big ones. We gained a massive new fan following that way, growing from a couple thousand followers on social media to over 20,000 in a short period of time. We are already seeing results in sales volumes that are higher than usual. We have a shiny new exterior, but the inside is a proven model of over 30 years.
Our decision to move forward with franchising is another one. It was something we had been thinking about for a while, and we finally made the moves to do so using an incredible amount of resources and capital. And finally, how we reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic and the conditions that were brought on was another big milestone. We’re very proud of how we were able to react and succeed through it.
1851 Franchise: How is Southern Classic Chicken supporting franchisees?
Alan Fanning: Our leadership team has been running their 18 corporate stores for 35 years, so we know the business inside and out and have the real front line experience to make each location a success. From day one, franchisees will have that extensive experience between us to draw upon.
Business coaches will also be available throughout ownership to contact for any questions or concerns. Franchisees also have access to a cloud-based system that we called The Coop where they can find an in-depth training library, operational playbooks and access system wide communication.
We are also very focused on building a community when it comes to our franchisees. We believe that by bringing in the right people who share our mission and values, and working very closely with them, we can create an awesome culture that feels like family. We’ve done a good job at creating our brand mission and values.
1851 Franchise: Who is your ideal franchisee?
Alan Fanning: We are ready to find partners to grow with, but we aren’t interested in teaming up with just anybody. We look for a cultural and business alignment and want like-minded people who have restaurant management experience, or at the very least, have a love and passion for service and restaurant operations. Our numbers may be strong, but we don't view this as just an investment. It is who we are. We want our franchisees to feel the same. Growing slowly gives us the opportunity to personalize that relationship. We’re also heavily involved in the day to day, and we want franchisees who would do the same and not just throw money at an investment.
The total investment necessary to open a Southern Classic Chicken franchise ranges between $777,500-$1,235,500 (assuming leased real property), including a $40,000 initial franchise fee. Average Gross Revenues at the reporting Southern Classic Chicken restaurants for the calendar year of 2022 were $2,673,102.
To learn more, visit: https://www.southernclassicchicken.com/franchising