BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Yet another restaurant chain has its eye on the growing Gem State.
This one, however? As a press release brags, it has “BIG things on the horizon” for us.
Big Chicken, a fast-casual concept founded by former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal, is making plans for Idaho. Arizona-based franchisees Steve Christensen and Reid Richards recently signed an agreement to bring the restaurant brand to this state and to Utah.
Christensen, who lived in Eagle before moving to Arizona in 2018, says they’re thinking of eventually opening six to eight Big Chicken restaurants with drive-thrus in Idaho. The locations aren’t yet determined, but with the Treasure Valley’s population booming? Expect Big Chicken to post up strong around Boise.
Christensen said they hope to get the first Idaho store open by the end of 2023.
“We’ll look at Eagle Road,” he said in a phone interview. “We’ll look in Boise somewhere — I don’t know if downtown’s the spot, or if it’s the Milwaukee (Street) area over there. But we’d like to get one in Boise, we’d like to get one in Meridian. Like to get one in possibly Nampa, Caldwell area? And then Idaho Falls, Twin Falls.”
“Maybe Pocatello,” he added with a chuckle, “because if I don’t do that, my mom would be mad, because that’s where she’s from. And Coeur d’Alene possibly down the road, too.”
On a side note, how is this restaurant not called Chicken Shaq? That’s a question for customers (and at least one YouTube commenter who made that punny observation) to puzzle over while jamming chicken fingers down their gullets.
BEHOLD THE BARKLEY
Either way, multiple crispy chicken sandwiches on the menu — made with 5-ounce patties — contain references to O’Neal. The Shaq Attack ($8.49 at the Las Vegas location) includes pepper jack cheese, jalapeño slaw and spicy chipotle barbecue sauce. The Big Aristotle ($8.49) features Muenster cheese, crispy fried onions, bacon, and Sweet & Smoky Memphis BBQ sauce. The M.D.E ($7.99) keeps things simple: Shaq Sauce and pickles.
But here’s the potential backboard-shattering selection. Behold the Charles Barkley. (Yes, there’s a chicken sandwich named after Shaq’s basketball-analyst partner in crime on TNT’s “Inside the NBA.”) For $8.99, the Barkley chicken sandwich comes stuffed with macaroni and cheese, crispy fried onions and roasted garlic barbecue aioli.
After that flagrant fowl, no way are you touching the rim.
The Barkley is only the second most popular sandwich on the menu, Christensen said. No. 1? That’s the Uncle Jerome ($8.99): Nashville hot chicken, lettuce, mayo and pickles.
There’s also a Larry Birdless option for vegetarians. Just joking! But a Yelp commenter came up with that suggestion, and it would be a slam dunk, right? Or maybe not. An option that healthy might go over like a Shaq free throw. You can, however, order any crispy chicken sandwich with a grilled patty instead.
A former owner of multiple Five Guys franchises, Christensen said he saw Big Chicken as an attractive opportunity.
“The Shaq thing is great, but if the food wasn’t good, we wouldn’t have gotten into it,” he said. “This is like the Five Guys quality of chicken sandwiches and tenders. The chicken tenders are better than Raising Cane’s. They’re less greasy, and there’s six sauce options.”
Better than Raising Cane’s? Them’s fightin’ words for some fast-food enthusiasts.
FRIES, SHAKES, MORE
In addition to sandwiches and chicken fingers, Big Chicken sells sliders and “Shaq’s favorite,” popcorn chicken. It comes in two sizes: Big ($7.99) and Bigger ($11.49).
Big Chicken’s fries are cut thin, wide and flat. Or just grab some Sweet Potato Waffle Fries ($3.99). Use those deep-fried shovels to spoon in mouthfuls of Lucille’s Mac n’ Cheese ($4.29) — which has a Cheez-It crust.
Top off the gluttony with a hedonistic shake such as El Padrino Negro ($5.99, another name Shaq has given himself): chocolate ice cream, chocolate chips, peanut butter and whipped cream.
Hey, at least the junk food doesn’t actually rain from the sky at Shaq’s restaurants. (You know, Kazaam-style.)
By the way, Big Chicken also has two salads on the menu — a Caesar and a Cobb. As if Sir Charles would ever order one of those.
Founded in 2018, Big Chicken has only a handful of locations right now, ranging from standard restaurants to ghost kitchen operations. But its owners — Shaq is just one of the backers — are aiming high.
Christensen and Richards also recently signed a deal to open a dozen Big Chickens in the Phoenix area. They also have plans to expand into Ohio. Overall, the brand has “more than 150 locations in its development pipeline,” according to the press release.
Christensen said he’s planning to visit Boise in June to begin the process of bringing Big Chicken to Idaho. But he doesn’t want to rush things just to get open. “I want to have an ‘A’ location,” he said. “Sometimes I’m a little patient.”