Do you remember ordering chicken tenders from a kids’ menu when you were younger, and choosing whether to dip your meal in barbecue sauce or honey mustard? Sticky’s Finger Joint — a 14-unit, New York City-based quick-service chain — aims to tap into that feeling of nostalgia but with an adult spin.
With a menu just as well-known for its creative dipping sauces as it is for its chicken fingers and sandwiches, Sticky’s wants to give chicken fingers all over the nation a grownup makeover.
“Chicken fingers have always been seen as a kids’ menu item, but something people still love as adults,” said Jon Sherman, co-founder and CEO of Sticky’s. “You want to take that childhood experience and elevate it with all of these different flavor profiles for the adults who now might have more adventurous palates.”
Before opening the first store in 2012, Sherman worked at a hedge fund bank on Wall Street and left to scratch an entrepreneurial itch. At the time, he realized that high-quality fried chicken was not really a thing yet in New York City, so he bought a small deep fryer and began experimenting with recipes. From 2012 to 2018 the brand opened three stores, and it’s been speeding up development since then.
From the beginning, Sherman said, Sticky’s has been about creating high-quality chicken that’s hand-breaded and fried in-house with a buttermilk marinade (or grilled for the grilled tenders) and letting customers get crazy with a rotating menu of dipping sauces, from cheddar cheese to Nashville hot sauce, a General Tso’s flavor and even a dessert pumpkin pie sauce. Sherman isn’t shy about getting creative.
“Fried chicken is really served in so many different cuisines and ethnicities, and we wanted to take some of the best flavors that you could put on chicken and incorporate them into our sauces to give you a wide variety of flavor profiles,” he said. As for his favorite flavor? Right now, it might be the new jerk sauce that’s inspired by Jamaican jerk chicken and has been on the flavor back burner for years.
Of course, over the last decade, fried chicken has boomed in popularity, with the larger national chains even competing in unofficial chicken wars.
“I view the competition as a good thing,” Sherman said. “You have to be on your game and serve the best product to go toe-to-toe with your competitors. … We have restaurants right next to a lot of the biggest chicken chains out there, but I feel like our product and experience can stand up to any of them.”
Sometime in the near future, Sticky’s will begin franchising and expanding to new markets outside of New York and New Jersey. Right now, Sherman and his team are still looking at the Northeast region, but Sherman said that they’d be happy to expand to wherever their chicken fingers would be appreciated. Once they scale to a certain point, they’ll have to start making some changes for the sake of quality control, like mass producing their sauces to distribute to stores. But that’s further down the line.
“You go to concerts or baseball games and chicken fingers are one of the most popular items there,” Sherman said. “But they come in pre-breaded, pre-cooked and frozen. And there’s a place for that in the world. But I think you can really tell the difference when you do it the way we do.”
Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected]