A new fast-casual restaurant chain is looking for a place to build in Maricopa.
Tom Barnett, owner of the Burger King franchise in town, has signed a deal to bring the new concept to Arizona.
Slim Chickens is a franchise Barnett describes as a competitor to Chick-Fil-A. He will bring 32 of the chicken-focused restaurants to the state to complement the 53 Burger Kings he already operates across the state.
Barnett has identified Maricopa as a future Slim Chickens market but is running into a problem he didn’t anticipate in this booming city.
“Try as we might, we haven’t been able to find a pad for the restaurant in Maricopa,” Barnett said. “We looked in Sonoran Creek near Culver’s, but those pads were all sold out. We wanted to go on that space north of Starbucks on the east side of 347 but that is owned by Dignity Health. There is not a pad we’ve been able to find.”
Barnett said he needs about 1.4 acres to accommodate the restaurant, parking, drive-thru and a curbside pickup area. Once he finds a location, Slim Chickens executives are confident he will succeed.
“Tom came highly recommended,” said Jackie Lobdell, vice president of franchise development. “He and Shane (Jacobs, Barnett’s head of operations) are stone cold operators. We know they’ve been Burger King franchisees of the year. We have a very strict vetting process and they more than met our requirements, so we’re thrilled to have them in the franchise family.”
‘WE FOCUS ON CHICKEN’
Barnett has been operating in Maricopa since 2018, when he opened his first Burger King on John Wayne Parkway. His second Burger King is slated to begin construction in the next couple of months at The Wells, with a potential opening late this year. He sees the city as a fertile market for Slim Chickens.
“Right now, there is no nice chicken restaurant in Maricopa, and we want to be the one,” he said. “The quality of the product really drew me to them. We tested it very thoroughly. Also, the quality of the management and ownership team is outstanding, and long term, new franchises only succeed if the existing franchisees are strong and competent. The Slims management team is top tier.”
Lobdell said Slim Chickens management is eager to make its entry into the Grand Canyon State after selling out locations in New Mexico, Utah and Colorado, and selling well in Texas.
“Arizona was the next natural progression as we move west,” she said.
“Here’s what I’ll tell you about Slims – we pretty much translate anywhere. There’s not a lot of people in the United States who haven’t grown up eating chicken tenders and fries, and that is our main workhorse,” she added. “Now, we have a pretty broad menu for what we do, but obviously we’re a chicken brand, you won’t find hamburgers or hot dogs or anything like that. We focus on chicken. Really, really great food is what we’re all about.
“We’ve been waiting to partner with a group like the Barnett team to go there, and we think it’s a match made in heaven.”
Slim Chickens menu includes chicken sandwiches, wings, tenders, wraps, and chicken and waffles all using hand-breaded, buttermilk-marinated, premium chicken tenderloins. They also offer a variety of southern-influenced sides and desserts, and 15 dipping sauces and nine glazes for the chicken.
Barnett said he anticipates that he will offer delivery and catering services in Maricopa.
“Both of those are really big,” he said. “In these restaurants, you’ll find a dedicated wall for all the delivery companies orders like Door Dash and Grub Hub. The catering part of it is big, too. This concept lends itself to catering much more than Burger King does – fries don’t cater well, they only last about 5 minutes.”
Barnett said he sees Slim Chickens as a competitor to Chick-Fil-A, even moreso than Raising Cane’s, another popular chicken restaurant franchise. But he feels like Slim Chickens has an edge on both.
“Neither of those other concepts has wings, which is a huge deal,” he said.
In addition to building his Burger King business from a single location in 1980 to the 53 he owns today, Barnett and his partners were responsible for the development and growth of 24 Good Egg and Eggery restaurants around Arizona before selling in 2014.
Headquartered in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Slim Chickens opened its first restaurant in 2003. In 2009, they expanded beyond Arkansas and in 2013 opened the first franchise location, hitting 100 stores in 2019. The company has 102 locations in 25 states, including 11 in the United Kingdom and two in Kuwait. The company web site lists 12 more locations on the way in state other than Arizona.