Monday, November 28 2022

Shaquille O'Neal, the Great Aristotle himself, hangs out at one of his restaurants.

Shaquille O’Neal, the Great Aristotle himself, hangs out at one of his restaurants.

Big chicken

Yet another restaurant chain has its sights set on the growing Gem State.

This one, though? As one press release boasts, he has “BIG things on the horizon” for us.

Big Chicken, a fast-casual concept founded by former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal, is making plans for Idaho. Arizona-based franchisees Steve Christensen and Reid Richards recently signed a deal to bring the restaurant brand to that state and Utah.

Christensen, who lived in Eagle before moving to Arizona in 2018, says they plan to eventually open six to eight Big Chicken drive-thru restaurants in Idaho. Locations are yet to be determined, but with Treasure Valley’s booming population? Expect Big Chicken to be strong around Boise.

Christensen said they hope to open the first store in Idaho by the end of 2023.

“We’re going to watch Eagle Road,” he said in a phone interview. “We’re going to look in Boise somewhere – I don’t know if downtown is the place or if it’s the Milwaukee (Street) neighborhood there. But we would like to have one in Boise, we would like to have one in Meridian. Would you like to have one in the Nampa, Caldwell area? And then Idaho Falls, Twin Falls.

“Maybe Pocatello,” he added with a chuckle, “because if I don’t do that, my mom would be mad, because that’s where she’s from. And Coeur d’Alene maybe down the street too.

By the way, how is this restaurant do not called Chicken Shaq? This is a question for customers (and at least one YouTube commenter who made this little observation) to think while shoving chicken fingers down their throats.

This is the Barkley

Regardless, several crispy chicken sandwiches on the menu — made with 5-ounce patties — contain references to O’Neal. Attack of the Shaq ($8.49 at Las Vegas location) includes pepper jack cheese, jalapeno salad and spicy chipotle barbecue sauce. The Big Aristotle ($8.49) includes Muenster cheese, crispy fried onions, bacon, and Sweet & Smoky Memphis barbecue sauce. The MDE ($7.99) keeps it simple: Shaq sauce and pickles.

But here is the potential selection that breaks the backboard. This is the Charles Barkley. (Yes, there’s a chicken sandwich named after Shaq’s partner, a basketball analyst in crime on TNT’s “Inside the NBA.”) For $8.99, the Barkley Chicken Sandwich is stuffed mac and cheese, crispy fried onions and roasted garlic barbecue aioli.

After this flagrant hen, no question of touching the edge.

The Barkley is only the second most popular sandwich on the menu, Christensen said. No. 1? It’s Uncle Jerome ($8.99): hot Nashville chicken, lettuce, mayonnaise and pickles.

Charles Barkely Crispy Chicken Sandwich.jpg
The Charles Barkley is a crispy chicken sandwich stuffed with macaroni and cheese, crispy fried onions, roasted garlic barbecue aioli. Big chicken

There is also a Larry Birdless option for vegetarians. I laugh! But one A Yelp reviewer offered this suggestion, and that would be a slam dunk, right? Or maybe not. An option that healthy could pass as a Shaq free throw. You can, however, order any crispy chicken sandwich with a grilled patty instead.

A former owner of several Five Guys franchises, Christensen said he sees Big Chicken as an interesting opportunity.

“The Shaq stuff is great, but if the food wasn’t good, we wouldn’t have gone in there,” he said. “It’s like the quality of Five Guys chicken sandwiches and fillets. Chicken fillets are better than Raising Cane. They are less fatty and there are six sauce options.

Better than Raising Cane? These are battle words for some fast food lovers.

Fries, shakes, more

In addition to sandwiches and chicken fingers, Big Chicken sells sliders and “Shaq’s favorite” chicken popcorn. It comes in two sizes: Big ($7.99) and Bigger ($11.49).

Big Chicken fries are cut thin, wide and flat. Or just grab Sweet Potato Waffle Fries ($3.99). Use these deep-fried scoops to pour bites of Lucille’s Mac n’ Cheese ($4.29) — which has a Cheez-It crust.

Complete the indulgence with a hedonistic shake such as The negro padrino ($5.99, another name Shaq called himself): chocolate ice cream, chocolate chips, peanut butter and whipped cream.

Hey, at least the junk food doesn’t really rain from the sky at Shaq’s restaurants. (You know, Kazaam style.)

By the way, Big Chicken also has two salads on the menu – a Caesar and a Cobb. As if Sir Charles would ever order it.

Founded in 2018, Big Chicken currently has only a handful of locations, ranging from standard restaurants to ghost kitchen operations. But its owners – Shaq is just one of the backers – are aiming high.

Christensen and Richards also recently signed a deal to open a dozen Big Chickens in the Phoenix area. They also plan to expand into Ohio. Overall, the brand has “more than 150 slots in its development pipeline,” according to the press release.

Christensen said he plans to visit Boise in June to begin the process of bringing Big Chicken to Idaho. But he doesn’t want to rush things just to open up.

“I want to have an ‘A’ location,” he said. “Sometimes I’m a little patient.”

In line: bigchicken.com.

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From left to right, BC Fries (the normal fries), a Charles Barkley sandwich and Sweet Potato Waffle Fries. Big chicken Facebook

This story was originally published May 17, 2022 4:00 a.m.

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Entertainment writer and opinion columnist Michael Deeds chronicles the good life in Boise: restaurants, concerts, culture, cool stuff. Acts materialized at the Idaho Statesman as an intern in 1991 before taking on roles such as sportswriter, editor and music critic. Over the years, his freelance work has spanned from writing album reviews for the Washington Post to hyping Boise in that airline magazine you left on the plane. Deeds holds a bachelor’s degree in editorial journalism from the University of Nebraska.

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