Within the restaurant industry, chicken is a long-standing and perennial favorite for customers and investors alike. That’s because these days, consumers are in search of fresher and healthier alternatives to take the place of a juicy burger—that’s where restaurants specializing in chicken come in.
Chicken is a versatile product and can be served up in a variety of ways. From grilled, fried, shredded, stuffed, to formed into nuggets and even put into wraps, salads and burritos, the options are endless.
“Chicken has no downsides,” said Buffalo Wings & Rings R&D Chef, Elliot Jablonsky. “It is affordable to both the operator and the consumer, works well with a multitude of ethnic flavors and is easy to cook and train as it is cooked at one temperature.”
Here are the top 25 concepts that are dominating the chicken industry.
*Invesment ranges presented were pulled from data published in third-party franchise listings made public by brands. Exact investment may vary based on a variety of different circumstances.
Investment Range: $130,975 - $1,044,200
Unit Count: over 1900 locations in 42 states
A simple Google search will reveal a lot about Chick-Fil-A’s stance in the restaurant industry—they’re poised to dominate the fast food world. According to QSR magazine, the company generates more revenue per restaurant than any other fast-food chain in the U.S. with just short of 2,000 restaurants. The brand is best known for its chicken sandwich, which is typically served with waffle fries.
Investment Range: $292,300 - $442,100
Unit Count: over 1800 restaurants worldwide
This QSR restaurant distinguishes itself with a unique "New Orleans" style menu featuring spicy chicken, chicken tenders, fried shrimp and other seafood and other regional items. The company operates and franchises over 2,000 Popeyes restaurants worldwide. Of the 1,600 domestic franchised restaurants, approximately 70 percent are concentrated in Texas, California, Louisiana, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Georgia, Virginia and Mississippi according to the company’s website.
Investment Range: $1,453,800 - $2,576,000
Unit Count: Over 14,000 locations worldwide
The Louisville-based franchise has earned the rights to brag about its long-standing track record of success and innovation. With more than 20,000 KFC outlets in 125 countries and territories around the world, the brand’s coveted original recipe has managed to remain a secret! KFC, which originally started by selling chicken on the roadside, is now under the umbrella of Yum! Brands, a restaurant company that also owns the Pizza Hut and Taco Bell chains.
Investment Range: $284,000 - $664,300
Unit Count: 800 Locations across the U.S.
Known for its Buffalo wings and chicken fingers, Zaxby’s is quickly becoming one of the country’ fastest-growing restaurant chains. Zaxby’s ranked 25th on QSR magazine’s list of top 50 brands in quick service and fast casual—having pulled in nearly $1.3 billion sales in 2014. This all comes just 14 years after two childhood friends opened the first Zaxby’s in Statesboro, Georgia.
Investment Range: $403,000 - $583,200
Unit Count: 62 locations in eight states
Chicken Salad Chick is a restaurant that sells 15 different flavor of chicken salad—and it’s taking the South and Midwest by storm. In 2008, founder Stacy Brown started selling her chicken salad door-to-door to help support herself and her three kids. Today, there are 62 locations in eight different states. This year, the company was No. 37 on Inc.’s list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies in America.
Investment Range: $1,244,000 - $3,085,000
Unit Count: 70 locations worldwide
Established in 1984 in Cincinnati, Ohio, the sports restaurant franchise has always been committed to giving customers the highest-quality wings. Over the years, the brand has pioneered and perfected the art of homemade sauces, customizable heat profiles and fresh wings, as well as grown to offer specialty burgers, gyros and salads. With 70 units across the globe, Buffalo Wings & Rings continues to stand out due to its unique family-friendly club-level experience.
Investment Range: $247,500 - $312,500
Unit Range: 100 locations across the U.S.
Wing Zone was founded in 1991 at the University of Florida by Matt Friedman and Adam Scott, who dubbed themselves Flavorholics because of their love for great wings and amazing flavors. The Wing Zone franchise was born in their fraternity house kitchen and the concept quickly flourished through delivery to their fellow college students. After opening several more Wing Zone locations in college markets across the country, Scott and Friedman began offering franchises in 2000. Wing Zone now has nearly 100 locations open across the U.S and a strong international presence, including Panama, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Malabo, Colombia, Russia and Guatemala.
Investment Range: $238,377 - $922,930
Unit Count: 900 locations across the US.
The sole focus of the Dallas, Texas-based franchise is flavorful wings. Since opening its first franchised location in 1997, the brand has grown to 900 locations throughout the United States, Mexico, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, and the United Arab Emirates. Wingstop has even attracted A-List celebrity investors such as Rick Ross.
Investment Range: $413,300 - $1,336,600
Unit Count: 1,650 locations in 29 states and 23 global markets
Over the last 60 years, Church's Chicken has been through many changes, but one thing has remained the same—it still serves as one of the largest chicken restaurant chains in the world. The brand has over 1,650 locations in 29 states and 23 global markets. And according to the company’s website, “With over $1.2 billion in system-wide sales, there’s never been a better time to become a Church’s® franchisee.”
Investment Range: $357,733 - $636,580
Unit Count: 600 locations across the U.S.
Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, the chicken franchise specializes in Cajun-inspired cuisines, such as "Cajun" fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits. This year, revenues increased 7.2 percent to $133.2 million in the third quarter of 2016. Bojangles also announced that they would be working on the “kitchen of the future” as it looks to make its kitchens more efficient with a better design and layout.
Investment Range: $211,362 - $366,453
Unit Count: 600 locations across 11 countries
Since opening its first restaurant in the U.S. in 1999, Pita Pit Inc. has continued to be one of the fastest-growing restaurant franchises in the country. With a focus on healthy eating, the brand recently launched their “Fresh Grilled, Flavor Filled” campaign with a trio of exciting new options based on the brand’s top selling item, the Chicken Souvlaki pita. Now boasting more than 600 locations across 11 countries, Pita Pit is recognized as No. 1 in its category in Entrepreneur Magazine’s Franchise 500.
Investment Range: $1,443,700 - $3,589,700
Unit Count: 1,175 locations worldwide
Buffalo Wild Wings has certainly made its mark in the chicken segment. In 1982, the brand was co-founded by Jim Disbrow, Scott Lowery and Bernard Spencer. Today, there franchise has over 1,000 international locations including in the United Arab Emirates. The brand has grown its revenue by 24 percent a year over the past five years thanks to a steady diet of new locations and improving same-store sales.
Unit Count: Over 450 locations nationwide
Known as Boston Chicken until 1995, there are more than 450 Boston Market locations nationwide—all of which focus on making delicious home-cooked meals. After years of downsizing, the brand announced last year that it was embarking on a renewed growth effort, which included the introduction of new menu items.
Investment Range: $427,850 - $802,350
Unit Count: Over 300 locations across the U.S.
Founded in 1975 in Mexico by Juan Francisco Ochoa from using old family recipes, El Pollo Loco entered the United States just five years later. As word spread, so did the brand’s popularity and locations. Today, the brand is known for its unique positioning, which falls somewhere between fast-casual chains, like Chipotle, and casual restaurants like Applebee’s or Olive Garden.
Unit Count: Over 40 locations across the U.S.
Slim Chickens opened in 2003 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with a focus on culinary excellence in a fast-casual setting. Guests can always expect fresh chicken tenders and wings cooked to order and served with handmade dipping sauces that are made from scratch. With more than 40 locations today and a fanatical following in 10 states, the brand is emerging as a leader in the “better chicken” segment and intends to grow nationwide to a footprint of 600 restaurants over the next decade.
Investment Range: $950K - $1 Million
Unit Count: Close to 1,000 locations worldwide
Originating in South Africa, Nando’s Peri Peri Chicken made its way to the U.S. in 1987 and prides itself on its Mozambican/Portuguese-inspired food. Nando’s appeal is in its differentiated product—the brand’s spicy-hot, flame-grilled offering stands out in a menu segment dominated by traditional fried-chicken specialists.
Investment Range: $300,000-$754,500
Unit Count: Nearly 150 Locations Throughout the U.S.
WOW Café was founded by Paul Ballard in New Orleans back in 2001. Paul and his brothers started cooking-up ideas at a young age while working together at their mom and dad's music store. The franchise prides itself on serving a quality product packed with flavor. According to the company's website, Ballard Brands formed in December 2012 by brothers Paul, Scott and Steve Ballard. The company’s restaurant portfolio includes retail brands WOW Café: American Grill & Wingery, PJ’s Coffee of New Orleans, The Original City Diner, and Boardhouse Serious Sandwiches.
Investment Range: $300,000 - $700,000
Unit Count: 40 locations in seven states
Founded in 1994 by Jim Weaver in the South Bend, Indiana area, Wings Etc. is a family-friendly Grill & Pub, with a diverse menu featuring award-winning jumbo wings, ribs, burgers, sandwiches, subs, wraps, salads, kids meals, cold beer and other drinks with that good-old-fashioned “vibe.”
Investment Range: $447,000 - $912,000
Unit Count: Over 70 locations throughout the U.S.
Opening its original location in 1995 in Ft. Pierce, Florida, the brand uses all-natural chicken with over 30 flavors to complement its infamous fiery wings. Over the past decade, they have grown to over 70 locations in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Texas.
Investment Range: $1,300,000
Unit Count: 1,100 restaurants worldwide
Although known as a popular burger chain throughout the Western and Southwestern United States, the brand also has a long list of chicken options that play a key role in their menu. With 70 years under its belt, the brand has grown to over 1,200 restaurants and has emerged as a major player in the QSR segment.
Investment Range: $235,450 - $471,000
Unit Count: Over 150 locations throughout the U.S.
Getting its start in the late 60s in San Marcos, Texas, Golden Chick has made selling great chicken to millions of people its passion. As an established brand with a loyal following, Golden Chick has been working on a careful development strategy to renew their image and introduce new fans to their signature taste. In doing so, the brand is aiming to launch a large-scale expansion initiative over the next few years.
Investment Range: $753,250 - $1,445,450
Unit Count: Over 50 locations throughout the U.S.
Created by Marriott in the 1960s as one of several in-house restaurants concepts, Roy Rogers quickly expanded from its home turn in northern Virginia. Known for a menu based upon burgers, roast beef and chicken—rather than just one, like many fast-food chains—it expanded to nearly 650 U.S. locations at its peak. Today, the brand is once again ripe for expansion, and their goal is to double the chain to 100 units over the next five years.
Investment Range: $14,351 - $293,789
Unit Count: Over 1,700 locations worldwide
Chester’s has been a leader of QSR concepts for over 50 years. Chester’s offers high quality, great tasting products, flexible locations, and training and support for franchisees. The brand only uses fresh chicken that is specially marinated and double-breaded using a proprietary family recipe. Chester’s menu also includes bone-in tenders and potato wedges, as well as breakfast and homestyle sides.
Unit Count: 170 locations
Pollo Tropical is a Caribbean-inspired fast casual concept known for its fresh, flame-grilled chicken marinated in a proprietary blend of tropical fruit juices and spices. Founded in 1988, the Miami-based company currently owns and operates more than 170 locations in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas, plus six licensed restaurants on college campuses and 35 franchised locations throughout the Caribbean, Central America, South America and Puerto Rico.
Investment Range: $750,000 - $1,350,000
Unit Count: 300 locations worldwide
Since 1971, Pollo Campero has always had an appreciation for Latin food and its Guatemalan roots. The brand started with a tiny restaurant and a prized recipe for chicken. Today, the brand boasts hundreds of restaurants and that same characteristic passion for good food.
Investment Range: $250,000 - $512,500
The Chickery specializes in everything from premium, chef-crafted roast chicken, hand-breaded chicken fingers, and hand-crafted sandwiches. Founder and Chef David Adjey studied at the Culinary Institute of America, and has worked as a celebrity personal chef and as the Chef Proprietor of his own fine dining restaurant in Toronto, Today, the Chickery is leading the better-chicken restaurant segment due to its high-growth concept and strong unit economics. Most recently, the brand signed a franchise deal for 15 stores throughout Northern California.