Big Chicken, restaurant started by Shaquille O’Neal, is expanding to Chattanooga

A fast casual chicken restaurant founded by NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal is expanding to Tennessee with plans for a couple of Chattanooga locations among 10 across the Volunteer State.

Chattanooga restaurateur Jim Richards, a former franchise sales vice president for the Krystal Co. who now operates the local Five Guys and Fiamma Pizza Co. restaurants, has signed a franchise agreement to open Big Chicken restaurants in Middle and East Tennessee.

“With four decades of restaurant industry experience under my belt, I know the importance of creating a ‘wow’ experience for customers,” Richards said in a statement about his latest restaurant plans. “The food, service and overall experience at Big Chicken are truly unmatched, and as someone who’s lived in the area for over 40 years, I’m confident we’ll become a quick hit for folks in Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga.”

Richards said he has been looking at different chicken concepts, “and I love the menu” from Big Chicken. Big Chicken fuses O’Neal’s home-cooked childhood favorites with trending flavors in its chicken sandwiches and tenders to its Cheez-It-crusted mac and cheese and handcrafted ice cream shakes.

Richards, whose company now operates 14 Five Guys and Fiamma Pizza restaurants, said he is looking for possible sites for the new Big Chicken restaurants in and around downtown Chattanooga as well as in East Brainerd and Hixson. He expects to open the first Big Chicken outlet in the Chattanooga market by early 2024, although he says he doesn’t have a specific site as yet.

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“I think we’ll get two built in Chattanooga in the next four years, and in the same time, we want to do at least three units in Nashville and two in Knoxville,” he said. “Five Guys has been doing incredibly well for us in Chattanooga, and we see Chattanooga as a vibrant market for this concept.”

The typical Big Chicken unit has about 2,500 square feet in a strip shopping center with good visibility.

Richards has experience working with several brands in the restaurant industry. He came to Chattanooga and served as vice president of franchise services for The Krystal Co. for 10 years before launching his own company, GPR Hospitality LLC.

“Jim’s extensive experience in restaurant ownership is extremely impressive, and his excitement about the business is infectious,” Big Chicken CEO Josh Halpern said in an announcement of the Tennessee restaurant plans. “Nashville is a prime market and one we’ve been excited to expand into, and Knoxville and Chattanooga are incredible college town markets that we’re excited to enter as well.”

Big Chicken is among numerous businesses O’Neal has been a spokesman for and investor in over the past two decades. The NBA legend has appeared in commercials promoting Icy Hot, Flexall and Gold Bond products for the Chattanooga-based Chattem and its parent company, Sanofi Consumer Healthcare, for 19 years as the brands have grown steadily in brand recognition and sales.

In 2019, O’Neal joined the Papa John’s board of directors and invested in nine stores in the Atlanta area. In addition, he became the spokesman for the company as part of the three-year contract.

Credit: Chattanooga Times Free Press

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