Slim Chickens opens 26th Arkansas store; plans to open 80 worldwide in 2023

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 3,574 views 

Slim Chickens CEO Tom Gordon

Fayetteville-based restaurant chain Slim Chickens opened its 26th Arkansas store on Monday (Jan. 30) with a second Springdale location at 401 S. Thompson Street.

The restaurant officially opened at 10:30 a.m. and is open until midnight seven days a week.

“We office [in Northwest Arkansas], we grew the company here, and we’re based here; anytime we have a chance to [open] a store here that makes sense, we are excited to do it,” co-founder and CEO Tom Gordon said in a recent interview.

Slim Chickens opened its first Springdale location in the Ozark Center Point Place shopping center at the Highway 412/Interstate 49 intersection in 2018. The second location is a block from the Northwest Medical Center on the city’s east side. It’s in a renovated 3,371-square-foot commercial building, formerly a Hardee’s restaurant, that the company bought for $1.4 million last year. Springdale-based Legacy Bank financed the construction.

“We’ve been looking at that area for years and never found the right opportunity around the hospital on that east side of Springdale,” Gordon said. “I think we’re in a great spot to serve the community.”

Gordon and Greg Smart co-founded Slim Chickens in 2003 and started franchising a decade later. In July 2019, the growth potential attracted investment from 10 Point Capital, an Atlanta-based private equity firm that also backs Walk-On’s and Tropical Smoothie Cafe.

More than 200 Slim Chickens locations are now open in 32 U.S. states and the United Kingdom.

According to QSR magazine, a major trade publication for the industry, Slim Chickens opened 50 stores last year. The company established more than 300 signed agreements across the globe for a total of 1,100 units in development deals.

Gordon said the company is proud of the impressive franchise growth and the quality behind the brand.

“I think we’ve stuck to our knitting when it comes to quality,” he said. “Even last year, which was a tough supply chain year for poultry. And for construction materials. We didn’t want to give up quality and the way we serve the guests or the way that we build the restaurants.

“And it cost us a few stores. We had a few that slipped into this year that we should have had open last year. But you can’t fool guests. They’re smart. They realize we didn’t deviate from the brand we try to emulate and put out in [different] communities. I think it continues to drive the growth we are seeing today.”

Like other business owners, Gordon is mindful of inflation and its impact on consumers. Higher housing, food, and gas prices have depleted most of their discretionary dollars.

“We have seen a bit of an impact in some [store] traffic and some areas of the country, but there’s a reverse effect as well,” he said. “You get some of the ‘white tablecloth’ folks coming down to us, which tends to balance out.

“Our position is a good spot for us to be in the industry. The first things to go in a tough recessionary or inflationary environment are the $200 ‘white tablecloth’ dinners. And we managed to pick up some of that.”

Gordon said Slim Chickens’ target in 2023 is to open 60 domestic restaurants and 20 international stores in the United Kingdom.

“Our UK partners have been super and are very bullish,” he said. “They have really carved out a niche for themselves with our brand. It’s been spectacular. So, 80 total [store openings] this year, and [2024] should be close to 100. And I think we will break it.”

Despite the rapid growth, Gordon is staying connected to daily operations.

“That’s not something I can give up on easily,” he said. “I’m involved on significant operational decisions…menus, [store] prototypes. And look, the job of a CEO is to protect the path and protect the future. And that starts with understanding today.

“Now, we trust our team and our professionals here. But as it relates to how things are running on a yearly basis, I am still very involved.”

To complement the new Springdale store opening, Slim Chickens will host a ribbon cutting at 10 a.m. on Thursday (Feb. 2). Gordon and other company officials will present a $10,000 check to continue their support of the Northwest Arkansas Make-A-Wish chapter. The NWA chapter has already granted two wishes in the past three years in partnership with Slim Chickens.