The Dallas-based chain Cowboy Chicken chain is rolling out a new virtual brand for delivery and pickup only dubbed Smackbird, featuring Nashville hot chicken sandwiches and tenders.
The concept was first developed by the fast-casual, wood-fired rotisserie chicken chain in November 2020 to help restaurants weather the pandemic-related dine-in shutdown. But the fried chicken variation was a hit where it was offered, and — starting in July — the chain is planning a “controlled rollout” in select markets within the soon-to-be 18-unit system.
Sean Kennedy, Cowboy Chicken’s president and CEO, said most of the corporate locations of Cowboy Chicken will host a Smackbird operation, along with approved franchise operators. The brand is available in the Dallas and Fort Worth area, for example, and will be added to two more (unidentified) Texas locations in July.
Like most virtual brands, the goal is to take advantage of extra kitchen capacity and increase sales. Cowboy Chicken restaurants already were equipped with fryers.
In an interview earlier this year, Kennedy said it was a brand they have been tinkering with since the 2020 launch as a “bolt on” to the Cowboy Chicken brand.
“We really learned how to market a brand you can’t touch,” he said. “We’ve got the kitchen capacity to be able to handle more volume. … It may not fit into all of our kitchens, but it fits into most.
“It’s a small menu, pretty easy to execute, easy to set up and get it right,” he added.
As the name implies, Smackbird’s menu includes fried chicken sandwiches ($10-$11) and tender meals ($10-$17) in six heat levels, ranging from NoSmack to HellSmack.
The Smack n’ Cheese sandwich, for example, includes chicken breast topped with mac n’ cheese, pickles slaw and SmackSauce.
SmackPacks include eight, 10 or 12 tenders with pints of slaw, SmackSauce, bread and pickles. Sides ($3-$7) include options like mac n’ cheese, slaw and fry dippers, with banana pudding for dessert.
Next year, Cowboy Chicken is looking to build two to three units, with growth planned in Orlando and Atlanta, as well as expanding in the corporate territory around Dallas, Kennedy said.
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