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Chicken N Pickle: Smashing its way into sports dining

This seven-unit Missouri concept is pairing the world’s hottest sport with the restaurant industry’s hottest category.

Chicken N Pickle, a concept rooted in the increasingly popular sport of pickleball, has smashed its way into the eatertainment segment, growing to seven locations in six years.

The North Kansas City, Mo.-based concept is on the cutting edge, offering a menu of chicken, barbecue and sides in a fast-casual setting with a full bar. Service is conducted via location-finding beacon technology in the midst of a wide variety of sports diversions.

The first acre-large Chicken N Pickle opened in 2017 in North Kansas City, followed by Wichita, Kan.; San Antonio; Oklahoma City; Overland Park, Kan.; and Grand Prairie and Grapevine, Texas. The eighth unit will open later this year in Glendale, Ariz., and further projects are planned in St. Charles, Mo., and Allen, Texas.

Chase Watson, a Chicken N Pickle managing partner, said founder David Johnson was studying other eatertainment concepts with the idea of creating one himself.  A friend in Arizona introduced Johnson to pickleball, a sport whose popularity is growing exponentially, especially in the Sun Belt. It’s played generally as doubles on a court half the size of a tennis court and with an oversized ping pong paddle and ball similar to a wiffle ball. The rules are a mix of tennis and ping pong.

“I think saw he the social communal aspects of the sport,” Watson said. “It's very fast-paced. Dave would probably tell you he's got severe ADD, and so being able to play a game and meet two, three or four people in 10 minutes and then rotate to the next was very appealing to him.”

Brad Clark, another managing partner in the concept, added that while Chicken N Pickle offers other diversions such as bocce, cornhole, jump ropes, hula hoops, ping pong and shuffleboard, pickleball is the centerpiece.

“It's approachable from 6 years old to 86 years old,” Clark said, “and anybody can pick up a paddle and just go have fun. So we've kind of morphed our concept around that idea, too — a family-fun variety of different types of people and groups centered around a little bit of competition and just great food and great drinks.”

Clark added, “The one thing that we really love is seeing people put their cell phones away and just enjoy being around each other and being outside and having a great time.”

The most recent opening in Grapevine features 12 year-round pickleball courts, lawn games, a rooftop bar and a fast-casual restaurant. Indoor and outdoor areas, such as the “Be Amazing” Room and Bier Gardens, are available for private events, which can accommodate more than 2,000 guests. The unit employs more than 200 people.

Chicken N Pickle’s menu features a range of chicken dishes, pork and grass-fed beef sandwiches, salads and snacks. Items range from the NKC (North Kansas City) Hot Chicken Sandwich and spicy slaw to the Chicken + Rib Combo, which features mango habanero chutney and honey brew BBQ sauces. The menu also includes a Seasonal Harvest Salad with kale and a citrus/honey vinaigrette, with sides such as signature hand-cut fries, tots and street corn.

“We proudly source from local farmers, ranchers and artisans to bring our customers the freshest, most flavorful, additive-free food possible,” said Alex Staab, Chicken N Pickle’s director of culinary, in a statement.

Site sizes range from one acre at the original to several acres for the more recent Chicken N Pickle units, Watson said. “As you might imagine, we need a lot of parking, so that could be anywhere up to another two or three acres. … We're still trying to figure out what's the sweet spot for us.”

Service is aided by beacon technology. Customers order food at a fast-casual kitchen area, are given a numbered beacon placard and the server delivers the meal. That allows customers to settle into any area and “go anywhere on our property and find open seating,” Clark said. Food is generally delivered within eight to 12 minutes.

Clark said guests can generally spend two to three hours on the property. The Grapevine location includes a dog park for canine family members.

“We find that our guests are looking for opportunities to engage with others and be outside,” he said, noting that the pandemic left a lot of people working from home.

Watson said the company envisions opening four to six Chicken N Pickle units each year. He added that community engagement is a tenet of Chicken N Pickle’s philosophy.

Each property has a staff member dedicated to developing business from non-profit and other groups, he said.

“Although we are in multiple cities,” Clark added, “we see each of our properties as being an anchor in those communities. We want to be on first-name basis with all of our guests.”

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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