Chicken Salad Chick Brings its Southern Charm to Jonesboro By Audrey Hanes, Photography by Kayla Broadway
Chicken Salad Chick began in 2008 in Auburn, Ala., when founders Kevin and Stacy Brown took Stacy’s at-home chicken salad business and turned it into a specialty restaurant empire boasting more than 100 restaurants across 12 states. As the first location in Arkansas, Jonesboro’s Chicken Salad Chick location and owner Melissa Hardcastle are quickly becoming favorites in the community.
Hardcastle, who grew up in Piggott, graduated from the University of Arkansas and spent most of her adult life in Fairhope, Ala., raising her two children and running a rental equipment business. After finding herself in a similar situation to Chicken Salad Chick’s founder, a single mom with an entrepreneurial desire, Hardcastle decided to try something new.
“I consider myself a lifelong learner,” said Hardcastle. “I like a challenge and enjoy building teams, creating measureable success and serving others. After selling our business, I decided to fulfill a desire to become an educator and took the steps to earn a master’s in business and marketing education from Auburn University. I taught secondary career and technical education classes for three years. After that, I joined a leadership team for a bank start-up.
“Although those career moves were rewarding in many ways, something was missing. As a third generation business owner, I naturally have an entrepreneurial spirit; I wanted to get back in business for myself. I started looking for an opportunity in Alabama, but something was drawing me back home to Arkansas. I loved Chicken Salad Chick and had become a regular guest. The restaurant had a friendly energy about it. The concept was unique, the food fresh and the atmosphere bright and inviting with an air of Southern charm. Why wouldn’t this do well in Arkansas?”
Hardcastle called corporate and started inquiring about a franchise. After talking with them for several months, meeting with the Chicken Salad Chick executive team and having a work experience in the Auburn location of the restaurant, Hardcastle was selected to take on a franchise. She felt that Jonesboro was the perfect fit to embrace Arkansas’ first Chicken Salad Chick location.
“It’s an hour from my parents’ home; I wanted to be close to them,” she said. “The people here are friendly and warm. They have traditional values. They’re proud of their community and love their families. All of these things align with the culture of Chicken Salad Chick, and it’s been a comfortable homecoming for me.
“Also, I wouldn’t be in Jonesboro if it wasn’t a thriving town. The community is growing and is a great place to start a business. Jonesboro serves as the epicenter for this part of the state, attracting a large number of daily visitors from Northeast Arkansas and Southeast Missouri. The city leadership does a good job – it’s clean and safe and it’s progressive. Jonesboro is the perfect demographic for a business like mine, and the Chicken Salad Chick model fits well here. The timing has been perfect, as Chicken Salad Chick recently opened a store in Memphis and this was a natural progression moving west for them. I knew if I didn’t do it, someone else would.”
The store is the first Chicken Salad Chick location in Arkansas and is store number 100 in the rapidly growing franchise. Hardcastle says the community received the business with open arms since opening in November and that many customers are already regulars.
“Jonesboro has shown us really great support; people are excited to try it,” she said. “We have a lot of repeat business. We are very happy with the number of guests who dine with us daily and (are) very happy with how busy catering has been. … We love to give samples of our food so the guest can make the best selection for their taste. Our goal is to provide a superb experience to every guest on every visit.”
There are 12 different flavors of chicken salad on the Chicken Salad Chick menu, all of which are made fresh daily from scratch and are named after special “chicks” in the founder’s life. The traditional flavors are the Classic Carol and Olivia’s Old South; savory options are Lauryn’s Lemon Basil, Dixie Chick, Sassy Scotty and Barbie-Q; fruity and nutty options include Fancy Nancy, Fruity Fran and Cranberry Kelli; and the spicy flavors are Buffalo Barclay, Jalepeño Holly and Kickin’ Kay Lynne.
Each of the flavors begins with the flavor that started it all, the Classic Carol, which is a mixture of all-white meat shredded chicken, finely minced celery, mayonnaise and Chicken Salad Chick’s secret seasoning. To make the other 11 flavors, various other ingredients, such as Fuji apples, onions, chopped pecans, jalapeños, cranberries, basil, sweet pickles, eggs, bacon and buffalo sauce, are added to the Classic Carol.
In addition to the eatery’s namesake item, pimento cheese, spicy pimento cheese and egg salad are also available.
“Here in Jonesboro, the Classic Carol is the most popular,” said Hardcastle. “Our other most popular flavors are Fancy Nancy, Sassy Scotty and Olivia’s Old South. It is fun to see our guests’ faces light up when they taste the flavors. For instance, Olivia’s Old South is made with sweet pickles and eggs. This is a traditional recipe that reminds people of their childhood and the chicken salad their mother or grandmother used to make. It takes them back in time, because people don’t cook like they used to and recipes like these are losing their places at America’s dinner table. Also, our chicken salads do not have added preservatives, and they are gluten free.”
The restaurant’s gourmet sides include broccoli salad, fresh fruit, grape salad, pasta salad and “mac ‘n cheese.”
“The grape salad, made with red and white seedless grapes covered in a sweet cream mixture with brown sugar and crushed pecans, is delicious and has become a local favorite and a best seller,” said Hardcastle.
As for soups, the Loaded Potato is available every day, while options such as Tomato Bisque, Chicken Florentine, Chicken Tortilla and Broccoli Cheese are available various days of the week. A classic salad and a seasonal salad are also available.
Each week, the prep team prepares more than 1,500 pounds of chicken salad and pimento cheese, which they start preparing early each morning before the doors open. Those salads can be ordered by the scoop or on a sandwich. The most popular option is The Chick, which is a sandwich or a scoop with a side, and the side can be one of the five side offerings, soup or even another scoop of one of the salads. There is also an option to add an additional scoop for those wanting The Trio.
Chicken Salad Chick also introduces seasonal limited time menu items. The pumpkin cheesecake and Rockin’ Rita chicken salad were offered over the holidays, and other popular seasonal items in the past have been Delicious Diva, a chicken salad with dill and cucumber, as well as Blueberry Cheesecake and Key Lime Pie.
“It’s fun to bring something new to Jonesboro, and although we don’t have the benefit of being a well-known brand, our name and logo are quickly becoming recognized,” said Hardcastle. “I love the whole experience from the minute you walk in our door; it’s such a unique concept. It’s inviting and friendly. We want you to feel comfortable here. I loved all that about Chicken Salad Chick, and I felt like I could identify with the founder – a single mom looking for a way to make a living for her family. She had a lot of determination and passion for a top-notch quality product and creating an environment of positivity and service.”
Hardcastle says the company’s focus on giving back is also a reason she longed to become a franchise owner. In honor of Stacey’s late husband and co-founder, Kevin, the Chicken Salad Chick Foundation is dedicated to finding a cure for cancer in America and ending hunger on a local level.
“This company really does give back to the community, and that’s so important to me,” said Hardcastle. “It’s driven by more than one thing. It’s not all about the bottom line. It’s about how we can show care to those around us, internally and in our community, and I’m always looking for more ways we can do that in Jonesboro. Last fall, we had the honor to provide dinner for the St. Bernard’s Runway for the Cure event, and in December we sold giving cards to raise funds for the Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas. Through the giving cards alone, our guests raised nearly $2,000 for the Food Bank in exchange for coupons they may redeem each month at Chicken Salad Chick during the year.
“The Chicken Salad Chick purpose is to spread joy, enrich lives and serve others. We try to live that, and it’s what I try to instill in my team. My heart is really in this.”
Chicken Salad Chick, located at 2821 Parkwood Road, is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, find Chicken Salad Chick (Jonesboro) on Facebook or call (870) 336-5678.
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