Covington brothers plan to expand Red Bird Fried Chicken to franchises across the South

Covington brothers plan to expand Red Bird Fried Chicken to franchises across the South
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Colonel Sanders, the original mass purveyor of fried chicken, famously only began to franchise his Kentucky poultry recipe when he was in his 60s. The Covington-based Bennett brothers don’t plan on waiting that long to spread their wings.

Their Red Bird Fried Chicken outlet will soon open another location in Denham Springs, the third since starting in Covington just over a year ago. They plan to use the new restaurant as a prototype for the company’s franchise model, with initial plans to have about 15 new outlets up and running in the region by the end of 2025.

Brandon Bennett, 40, who is a partner with his brother, Blake, and their cousin, Jay Morris, who are both 35, said their ambition is to follow in the footsteps of other Louisiana chicken pioneers. Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen and Raising Cane’s are now the third- and fourth-largest chicken chains in the country, with combined sales of about $8 billion and 3,600 outlets, according to QSR, which tracks franchises.

“Those are big shoes to fill so we have to take it one day at a time,” said Brandon Bennett. “But if we can be just half as successful as Popeye’s or Cane’s in 10, 15 years we’d be ecstatic.”

Red Bird fried chicken has self-serve kiosks to order and a counter to order face to face. The Lakeview location opened in June 2023. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, | The Times-Picayune)

They’re off to a good start in terms of their product: Red Bird’s chicken brought home the blue ribbon from last year’s National Fried Chicken Festival in New Orleans, voted “Best Fried Chicken” by the judging panel.

The judges praised Red Bird’s super-crunchy exterior and moist, flavorful bone-in chicken, which is served in classic boxes for take-out customers, with sides like mac and cheese, red beans, gumbo and coleslaw.

Blake Bennett has been in the food business since he left college 15 years ago and has tried various concepts, including Andy’s Bistro in Metairie and the Three B’s Burger & Wine Bar on Harrison Avenue in Lakeview. Three B’s was a thriving local spot until the COVID pandemic, after which the Bennetts had a rethink what the future of casual dining would be.

Blake Bennett spent about a 18 months testing recipes and techniques until he landed on a spicy marinade that gave their chicken its award-winning texture and flavor, and the original Red Bird location was born. The second outlet, in Lakeview, was opened last June and now the third will be the launch pad for franchising. 

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Red Bird is a new concept for fried chicken, with the first location in Covington. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, | The Times-Picayune)

“It has always been our plan to franchise,” said Brandon Bennett, who also is a lawyer with a small Covington practice. Jay Morris was an attorney in that practice before deciding to go full-time in the restaurant business when Red Bird was launched last year.

The franchise idea was familiar to the Bennett family: their father, Kevin Bennett, 70, started the SpeeDee Oil Change and Tune Up business with an Archbishop Rummel High School buddy in Metairie in 1980. They grew their network to 172 shops in the U.S. and Mexico through franchising and sold the business to Midas in 2008 for $20.8 million.

“My dad is a wonderful sounding board, especially when we’re gearing up for franchising,” said Brandon Bennett. “He’s fought the battles and been in the trenches.”

To differentiate from the competition, Red Bird is going to stick with a fairly stripped down menu and take the same approach to store design.

Unlike the current Covington and Lakeview outlets, the Denham Springs restaurant will have a drive-thru window and will be in a small end-unit in its strip mall location. This is to cater to customers who have become accustomed to phoning or ordering online and making their way quickly through a pick-up line. It will be the aim for future stores to locate where drive-thrus can be facilitated.

Slim and trim

Also, Brandon Bennett said that by keeping the stores small and the equipment needs at a minimum, they are aiming to get Red Bird franchisees going for a lot less money than they might have to spend on some of the bigger brands.

“We would hope you could be in this store for $500,000 or less, depending on equipment packages,” he said. “You take a Chick-fil-A, or a Walk On’s, for example, that’s several million dollars because that’s such a huge footprint and such a major operation.”

The total cost to launch a Chick-fil-A franchise ranges from $518,385 to $2,803,435, according to Franchise Disclosure Documents filed with the Federal Trade Commission, reflecting the difference between mall locations, where sales average around $3.5 million a year, and typical drive-thru restaurants with average sales of $8.7 million. Walk On’s franchise costs range from $1.3 million to $5 million, according to Franchise Times, a trade publication.

Red Bird’s pared back model also would require a smaller staff than a bigger operation.

In the same vein, Red Bird has set up a sister corporation called Red Bird Express, which Bennett said will be aimed initially at franchising outlets in gas stations. After all, both Colonel Sanders and Al Copeland started their first chicken stores in service stations.

A wing and a prayer

Red Bird already is in advanced talks with a partner for the first wave of Red Bird Express gas station counters, which will account for about 10 of the new franchise outlets by the end of next year. Another five will be drive-thru stores like Denham Springs.

“If we had five franchises open and maybe 10 Red Bird Express’ by the end of next year, I think that’s a solid conservative goal,” Brandon Bennett said. “Then, I think we’d really start our rapid growth model.”


About Mary Weyand 11873 Articles
Mary founded Scoop Tour with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research. With ample knowledge about the Automobile industry, she also contributes her knowledge for the Automobile section of the website.

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