WINTER PARK, Fla. – About a half-hour before Guy Fieri’s new Chicken Guy! restaurant opened its doors in Winter Park Thursday, about a dozen or more people were already lined up.
That number doubled within minutes. Within an hour of opening, the line for the drive-thru stretched around the building and back into the street.
“I feel very good, very excited, very proud of the team,” said John Thall, president of Chicken Guy! shortly after the doors opened.
Thall’s enthusiasm for the new restaurant was shared by the customers.
[ADD YOUR BUSINESS TO THE FLORIDA FOODIE DIRECTORY]
“I’m very excited,” Ian Briggs said as he waited in the long, winding line of cars heading into the drive-thru, adding that he is a big Fieri fan.
“It’s fantastic,” said another waiting customer who had sampled Chicken Guy! at the Disney Springs location.
Thall said he went into business with the Food Network star about three years ago. Thall also owns the last remaining Planet Hollywood, which sits inside Disney Springs.
Check out the Florida Foodie podcast. You can find every episode in the media player below:
“We were remodeling the Planet Hollywood and (Fieri) was kind enough to do our sandwich and burger menu for us,” Thall said. “We started talking about different businesses and up came Chicken Guy!”
Thall said that Fieri had been eager to start a restaurant concept focused on chicken tenders for some time.
“(Fieri) started messing with the tenders and he developed a brine and how we bread (them) and then how we hand pound (them),” he said. “And then the big thing was the pressurized fryers to make them crisp and keep them moist. So we had a great tender and Guy said, ‘You know, we need to separate ourselves now from everyone else.’”
Thall said Fieri decided the sauces would be what would make them stand out from the crowd. The chain offers 22 different sauces, some of which could be rotated in and out seasonally.
“What’s unique is our top 10 sauces, since day one, have never changed,” Thall said, adding that the bourbon barbeque sauce is the chain’s most popular.
The Winter Park location itself stands out from all of the other Chicken Guy! restaurants. It is the first free-standing location and the first with a drive-thru.
“We feel drive-thrus are the future for quick-service restaurants. So, we really think this will put us on a map — draw a lot more interest for potential franchisees — and we’re very happy with the way it turned out,” Thall said.
The restaurant features a double drive-thru; however, only one lane was operational for the opening. Additionally, the intercom did not appear to be working. A staff member was standing in the drive-thru taking all the orders from each customer personally.
Thall noted the competition along South Orlando Avenue in Winter Park. Not far from Chicken Guy! there is a PDQ, Chick-Fil-A and a Popeyes — which has prompted some to refer to the area as the “chicken strip.” Despite that, Thall seemed undeterred.
“Bring it on. We’re open 11 (a.m.) to 9 (p.m.) daily, but the key to the whole thing is we are also open on Sundays,” he said as a dig at Chick-Fil-A which is known for staying closed on Sundays.
In addition to the drive-thru, Thall said the restaurant would soon be launching curbside pick, allowing people to expedite online orders.
“We also have third party delivery that will be started and we have a special space for the third-party delivery drivers to come in — it’s three steps for them to get into the door, there’s a counter there, they take their order, turn around and off they go,” he said.
While the restaurant did appear to have some long wait times on its first day of operation, customers seemed content and understanding of potential growing pains.
There will be plenty of time for the restaurant to come into its own. Thall said he plans to keep the restaurant in that location for at least 10 to 20 years.
He added that people can “expect a lot more” Chicken Guy! restaurants to pop up around Central Florida.
Use the form below to sign up for the ClickOrlando.com Florida Foodie newsletter, sent every other Wednesday.