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NRN Showdown

Big Chicken grows with Shaq in tow, adding drive-thru and breakfast

Las Vegas-based brand capitalizes on ex-NBA star Shaquille O’Neal’s appeal


Big Chicken has the Big Benefit of being the Big Idea of Shaquille O’Neal, the 7-foot-1, 325-pound former basketball center who had a 19-year career in the NBA. And the idea is expanding, as the brand is rolling out its first drive-thru and a new breakfast menu.

The first Big Chicken opened in 2018, and the brand’s Las Vegas-based partners — O’Neal, JRS Hospitality and Authentic Brands Group — began franchising the concept in fall 2021.

Big Chicken now has 16 units open, with franchise agreements for more than 200 more restaurants and development deals in sports arenas, airports, cruise ships and stand-alone locations in a number of states.

The first Big Chicken location is a few blocks east of the Las Vegas Strip, where it offers a full bar, big cookies and Shaq’s large footprints at the drink dispenser so customers can understand how their feet compare.

“We really wanted people to be able to come in and feel like they were at home,” said Josh Halpern, CEO of Big Chicken. “It was important for Shaquille that everyone felt welcome. Some of our locations have bars. All of our locations have game rooms in them.”

About 60% of Big Chicken’s business is still dine-in, but the brand recently opened a drive-thru in a new Las Vegas location.

The company has more than 200 locations in development, including new franchise partners in North and South Florida.

“The guys that have come into our system are really incredible franchisees that are really well established in non-competing chains [and] who feel that they have the opportunity to leverage a chicken brand in their portfolio,” he said.

Big Chicken locations are generally between 2,300 and 2,800 square feet. “We just opened our first drive thru actually last week,” Halpern said, “so we are willing to take chances with different formats. Realistically we just want to be in the right place.”

By the end of the first quarter, Big Chicken expects to have additional brick and mortar stores opening in Gilbert, Ariz., and Houston, Halpern said. “We have a couple units going into a Major League Baseball stadium,” he added. “We're going to be in the Kansas City airport terminal, which is going to be the biggest new airport in the United States.”

The airport development, focusing on captive customers at all times of day, led the brand to develop the breakfast menu.

“We're focused on breakfast sandwiches,” Halpern said. “Most of the ingredients we use are ingredients that we use on our lunch and dinner menus. Of course, you're bringing in an egg and some other things. … We have a strong coffee program. … We take the same approach to breakfast that we take toward everything: big fun, big quality.”

Having O’Neal behind the brand has been a huge benefit, Halpern noted.

“The best thing that Shaquille does is he's really, really great at being able to explain the concept and do the storytelling for folks,” he said. “When you go on our website and you click on any of our menu items, he's explaining the story behind the sandwich and why the sandwich is what it is, why this connects to his childhood. The chefs really tried to build this around the flavors and influences of Shaquille's life. And there's no better storyteller to do that than Shaquille himself.”

O’Neal has also opened doors as the concept franchised, Halpern said.

“He's been a partner for with Carnival Cruise Ships for the last 10–15 years,” he said. “He's one of their official spokespeople; I think technically he's their chief fun officer. We're on Carnival Cruise Ships. … That doesn't happen without the Big Man. He's always opening doors for us and always helping to explain our story. And people genuinely love the guy.”

Meet the other Chicken Showdown contenders here.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

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