Forget the golden arches. When it comes to fast food in Calgary, it’s the giant chicken that reigns supreme. Chicken on the Way, a Calgary institution since 1958, continues to dish up its original fried chicken, chips and deep-fried balls of corn-fritter goodness.
“It’s been the same menu for 55 years,” says Russ Dunn, who co-owns the business with his sister, Lynne. “We still make all our own food here. We bread our own fish, make our own coleslaw, everything.” It’s always been good value, too. Calgarians flock to this Kensington take-out spot for the tasty and cheap eats—four pieces of fried chicken with French fries and two corn fritters costs a mere $8.25.
What has changed is the advent of franchise locations. In March 2011, the first franchise of Chicken on the Way opened in Calgary’s southeast. Since then, two other locations have opened in the city, and another is slated for a December debut. Plans are also in the works for Airdrie and Red Deer.
So why franchise now after so long as the one and only? “People finally wore me down,” admits Dunn, who has received relentless franchise proposals over the years. His father, Douglas—already the second generation of family owners—was “not enthused about the idea” of franchising. It wasn’t until after Russ and Lynne bought their father out in 2009 that they decided to give it a try.
“It’s a good time because the economy isn’t as crazy,” says Dunn. “It’s easier to find locations, and rent isn’t as high. I figured, why not?” The first franchise did well, and from there it became clear that the market would support more locations.
That said, Dunn’s careful to maintain the quality of his family’s much-loved fare. “You have to treat the whole company as your own, not just one location. I want all the franchise owners to do well and for the quality to stay up.”
Explains Abby Huizing, founder of Franchisology, a Calgary consulting firm: “When a company like Chicken on the Way has garnered a cult-like following and decides to franchise, one of the most important things aside from location is choosing the right franchisees.” They have to be capable and have the right background to emulate the brand. “You must also have synergy with your first franchisees, as you will spend numerous hours together to train them well,” she adds.
Dunn agrees training is critical, and conducts manager trades with his franchisees so they can learn how his operation works and vice versa. Even as it expands, the business still comes down to family, he says. “Our franchise corporation is one big happy family, and that’s the way we want it.”
Don’t expect Chicken on the Way’s menu to get market-researched into adding healthy-eating options like so many rivals, either. When asked why he thinks people are so enamoured with its food, Dunn answers simply: “Cuz it’s good.” That’s something to crow about.