Friday, October 22 2021

It all started on the streets as a pop-up booth on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles in the spring of 2017.

Under the lights of a parking lot, four guys who had raised $ 900 to buy a few fryers made chicken fillets and served them with kale salad and fries. It was money to taste their version of spicy Nashville chicken.

The name on a small sign at the booth was Dave’s Hot Chicken.

Dave is Dave Kopushyan, a chef trained at the former Los Angeles campus of the Art Institute of California and run by celebrity chef and restaurateur Thomas Keller at his former restaurant Bouchon in Los Angeles. In Napa Valley, Keller runs Bouchon Bistro and Bouchon Bakery, as well as The French Laundry in Yountville.

Now it’s Kopushyan’s six heat levels, from light sweet spices to Reaper (super hot) spices on chicken fillets and sliders featured at 25 Dave’s Hot Chicken fast food restaurants, including a new one that officially opens Friday at 2240 Mendocino Ave. in the Safeway store. center of Santa Rosa.

In culinary school, “Dave was known as a spice nerd,” said Bill Phelps, CEO of the upstart chicken chain and the largest of four private investors who have minority stakes in the half-owned company. the four co-founders.

They are the childhood friends of the spice guy, Arman Oganesyan, the channel’s marketing and social media expert, and brothers Tommy and Gary Rubenyan.

What has happened since the four began serving spicy chicken four years ago is the first chapter in a nationwide expansion planned to open 500 Dave’s Hot Chicken restaurants in the United States and Canada. Although this is an ambitious rollout, this chicken supplier has extensive experience in the food and entertainment industry and brilliantly backs it up.

In addition to Phelps, co-founder of the Wetzel’s hand-rolled pretzel chain in Southern California, investors include food veterans Rick and Elise Wetzel, as well as actor Samuel L. Jackson and rapper / hip-hop artist. Canadian Drake.

By intention, Phelps said, the four co-founders are using the business model the Wetzels followed with their latest national food company, the Blaze Pizza chain. They prompted basketball legend LeBron James to invest in the company, giving him instant name recognition.

The executives of Dave’s Hot Chicken are leveraging Drake’s star power to gain brand, franchise and media attention. There won’t be any chicken spices or sandwiches named for Drake, but he will make occasional appearances at chicken restaurants.

Drake loved spicy chicken, and after meeting the founders and “listening to their story, I jumped at the opportunity to invest,” he said in a statement.

Inside each restaurant, the walls are adorned with artwork from street artists tailored to the respective area. But the star is the chicken served without spices or mild, medium, hot, extra hot or the Reaper spices.

The latter is made with Carolina Reaper peppers, allegedly the hottest pepper in the world. Before customers can order the Reaper’s Topped Chicken Fillets, they must sign a “general discharge” waiver acknowledging that they understand the extreme heat contained in this spice.

Phelps acknowledged that the release is primarily part of the chain’s marketing strategy, but it also serves as a warning to the few consumers who want to try the over-the-top spice that is “so hot it’ll blow your head off.”

In addition to the Santa Rosa location, Dave’s Hot Chicken is opening this week in Houston and another location in Southern California.

The chain also has outlets in Texas, Las Vegas, Portland and Toronto. At the end of the year, Phelps said the business plan called for 40 restaurants. After that, the co-founders will continue to travel across the country and Canada to honor franchisee commitments for 500 restaurants.

The Santa Rosa location is the prime location for regional franchisee Ali Kerachi and his business partner / brother-in-law Ali A. Karachi. They own the rights to open Dave’s Hot Chicken stores in Sonoma, Marin, Napa and Contra Costa counties and part of Alameda County. They plan to open 13 in the next 42 months in the region, including another in Sonoma, either Rohnert Park or Petaluma.

“We tasted a handful of original Nashville hot chickens, and this is the winner by far,” said Kerachi, also the operator of a dozen Roundtable Pizza restaurants in North Bay, explaining why he bought a Dave’s Hot franchise. Chicken.

Phelps called the Southern California food business the business history of spicy chicken mixed with an “entrepreneurial fair,” noting the first online news article in May 2017 by Eater Los Angeles under the headline “New Late-Night. East Hollywood’s Hot Chicken Stand Could Blow Your Mind, ”a binge eating began.

“The next day they had two hour lines and they never looked back,” he said of Chef Dave and his three friends who started Dave’s Hot Chicken.

You can reach Editor-in-Chief Paul Bomberger at 707-521-5246 or [email protected] On Twitter @BiznewsPaulB.


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