Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Food & Drink

You Probably Haven't Heard of America's Best Fried Chicken Chain

Published On 07/19/2017
C hances are you won’t find America’s best-kept fast-food secret at your local strip mall. You also won’t see it clustered among the gaggle of Chick-fil-As, KFCs, and Popeyes that dot the country’s suburban throughways and highway exits.
"Krispy Krunchy Chicken might be the most underrated item in fast food today."
Cole Saladino/Thrillist
C onsidering that KKC has a jaw-dropping 2,200 locations in 41 states and one US overseas territory, it's surprising that the destination-worthy chicken still hasn’t become a household name. The chain is slightly smaller than Popeyes, which by comparison has 2,700 locations worldwide — only 500 more than KKC — but commands a larger name. (KKC is also larger than Chick-fil-A, which has just over 2,100 locations.)
Talde and Cleveland-based chef Jeremy Umansky, a fellow KKC superfan, were both shocked at discovering that their local KKCs weren’t just local mom-and-pop operations. “Until we started talking about it, I didn’t know they were a chain,” Umansky tells Thrillist over the phone. “I thought it was a one-off. I’ve never seen a commercial or heard a radio ad or anything.” Ditto for Talde.
So why the disconnect? Sure, Popeyes can claim a 17-year head start, a pedigree derived from New Orleans’ lauded culinary culture, and a deep-seated connection with the South. But the largest reason KKC has such an under-the-radar status is because of its unique business model: It almost exclusively targets convenience stores for expansion.
"Could Louisiana chicken exist outside Louisiana?"
Cole Saladino/Thrillist
T hough KKC was founded in 1989, the company didn't see rapid growth until 17 years later. In 2006, the company exploded from 200 stores to its current 2,200, moving its footprint out of the Deep South during the nadir and recovery from the 2008 Financial Crisis. “The Recession became this period when you could really see the C-store trend take off,” Food News Media Editorial Director Sam Oches says.
“Customers traded down from fast food, but still wanted quality. C-stores were that next rung down," he adds. Most people were in dire financial straits but still needed to feed themselves. This growth was probably also helped by the coming of age of millennials during this time. This is a demographic that values cheap, quality fast food and KKC provides both.
From a quantitative view, the sheer number of locations should make KKC a household name. Allison Shapiro says that the chain is currently ramping up its digital marketing strategy, but its reputation has probably developed because of its low visibility.
Cole Saladino/Thrillist
"The one by me will deep-fry anything you bring in."
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