Jan 8, 2024 - News

Fayetteville's hot chicken property is MLK Boulevard

Illustration of competing restaurant neon signs.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Call it Fayetteville's Chicken Strip.

What's happening: The opening of Big Chicken earlier this month makes eight chicken-centric, fast-food restaurants within a three-minute drive along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

State of play: Shaquille O'Neal's eatery joins Wingstop, Chick-fil-A, Zaxby's, Raising Cane's, KFC, Slim Chickens and Popeyes in less than a mile. Some sit next door or directly across the street from one another. There's one for every tenth of a mile.

  • It's a clucking cluster.

Why it matters: It's not likely all eight will manage to scratch out a living there long term. "For a while, we have been at the point in this market that a new restaurant is not creating new customers," Jeff Pederson, senior vice president of commercial real estate at Lindsey & Associates, told Axios.

  • New restaurants will squeeze in knowing they'll have to steal customers from competitors, he said.
  • They're gambling they can convince diners they have the best food and convenience.

🖼️ The big picture: It's a reasonable bet. The average American was expected to eat more than 100 pounds of chicken in 2023, up from 82 pounds a decade earlier. That's roughly another three to five full birds per person.

🧮 By the numbers: The current top six chains combined operated about 13,000 U.S. stores and made nearly $36.8 billion in 2022 sales, per trade publication QSR.

The bottom line: Pederson said that despite saturation, new-to-market fast-food restaurants are actually willing to pay more per square foot to be where the traffic and demographics are best for their business.

  • Of note: Fayetteville's MLK area is clogged with University of Arkansas and Fayetteville High School students most months of the year.

What we're watching: We'll be walking on eggshells to see if Bojangles, Church's Chicken or Jollibee tenderly step into the pecking order on Chicken Strip, or if one of the current contenders has to fly the coop.

Worth's thought bubble: We can't officially say this mile has the highest concentration of chicken eateries in the U.S., but if you know of another, hit reply and tell us.

Bonus: Slim Chickens chief is bullish

The Slim Chickens on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard in Fayetteville. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

Slim Chickens started two decades ago with one store on College Avenue in Fayetteville.

  • Now, the brand's 256 restaurants stretch from Fort Lewis, Washington, to Sarasota, Florida, and overseas to the United Kingdom and Istanbul, Turkey.

State of play: CEO Tom Gordon isn't a chicken when it comes to growth. He told Axios the company plans to open another 50 franchises in the U.S. and 15 internationally this year — a 25% footprint increase.

  • Plans are for even more in 2025.

Reality check: We wanted to know how much is too much given the preponderance of competitors in south Fayetteville.

  • "When we started in 2003, there wasn't nearly the level of competition or the number of brands in the segment," Gordon said.
  • Yes, but: Competitors come and go. Those that provide a good product and service "will have a chance."

The bottom line: "We have to continue to do what we do best, which is tenders, wings, sandwiches, salads, wraps and a lot of different, unique dipping sauces," he said.

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