Chick’nCone combines the best of both worlds: sweet and salty. The concept thrives on social media and has gained an instant following, making it an attractive option for franchisees.
New York City-based Chick’nCone pairs chicken with fresh-based waffle cones to immediate success. The Instagrammable brand, which was founded in 2014, has grown to 26 locations across the country with 83 in the pipeline.
Chick’nCone began as a food truck concept in Easton, Pennsylvania. The company found quick success when the trailer was invited to attend a 62-day holiday food rally in Bryant Park in NYC. There, food lovers found the combination of crunchy bite-sized chicken pieces and the sweetness of hand-rolled waffle cones to be instantly craveable, and social media took off.
Jonathan Almanzar, who founded the company with partner Josh Lanier, said “that sort of got us on an international stage with Instagram and the internet with people requesting franchises,” in a phone interview with QSRweb.
The first franchise sold was in Dubai in 2018 without the concept even having a permanent location.
“We were just foolish enough to say ‘sure, let’s do it,'” Almanzar said. “Six months later, we were on a plane to Dubai trying to figure out how to get chicken, figuring out all the different steps and how to franchise.”
He admits that probably wasn’t the best way to start franchising, but the franchisee is now set to open his fifth store in Dubai. Further stores across the country, and they’re currently focusing heavily on the St. Louis, South Florida and the Charlotte markets. The company is headquartered in south Florida.
Prospective franchisees are “finding us, mostly through word of mouth and Instagram,” Almanzar said.
On the menu
The menu is simple. Chick’nCone primarily focuses on chicken, fries and shakes. There’s chicken in waffle cones, chicken tenders and chicken sandwiches, Cajun corn, mac and cheese, fries, shakes and drinks.
The chicken market is competitive, but the cone differentiates them.
“We use a superior product. We use a whole muscle. It’s an extensive chicken,” Almanzar said. “It’s a very high-quality chicken product. We like to call ourselves ‘fast craft’ food instead of fast food. It’s fast, but it’s a little craft because it’s a higher-end product. We’ll never have the 99-cent six chicken nugget thing. That would never be something that we could do.”
Popular LTOs include a holiday peppermint crunch shake and a mac-and-cheese cone, which combines the comfort food with chicken.
Chick’nCone doesn’t use a commissary, and they’ve built a good internal team this year to help maintain continuity across the brand.
“I think our franchise partners understand the need for continuity,” Almanzar said. “They’re really good if something looks a little bit off brand even a little bit — because we are such an Instagrammable food — you can see what’s going on all over the place just by searching a couple of hashtags. … It’s sort of like an internal policing.”
Almanzar said the company has faced supply chain issues this year and has had to pivot in place to adapt to challenges, such as with fries in some locations and packaging or sauces in others.
And of course, they’ve felt the pinch of rising chicken prices, especially since the company has grown exponentially this year. Chicken prices are usually negotiated at the beginning of the year “and we didn’t have a solid negotiated chicken price, which is what we’re doing this year,” he said. “Going in to next year, we’ll have a locked-in baseline.”
In the store
Chick’nCone looks for locations with drive-by traffic nearby other QSR or fast-casual outlets nearby.
They’re also looking for franchisees with past business experience, and while restaurant experience isn’t necessary, it’s helpful. The brand also wants franchisees with enough capital “that they’re not investing their life’s savings, and not too much of a rogue maverick,” Almanzar said, adding that teamwork is a must for the company’s brand partners.
“Probably the most importable ability is likability to us,” he said.
The brand doesn’t have to do a lot of marketing because social media is so important to the company’s operations.
“Our food is so photographable,” Almanzar said, “and so the first thing people do when then get a Chick’nCone — they don’t smell it or taste it — they hold it up and take a picture of it. That’s the absolute first thing they do. And that has given us the opportunity to market in a way that food has never been marketed before. We can actually measure word of mouth, and that’s been huge for us.”
The company has a “waffle theater” where all the waffle cones are hand-rolled behind glass — another photo or video op — and there’s a wall to hold the Chick’nCone up against when photographing for the ‘Gram.
Almanzar said the pandemic hasn’t affected Chick’nCone’s growth. It did shut down one location in New York City for a time and another in Dubai, “but we’ve been able to grow in the midst of it,” Almanzar said.
“I think that’s because people view it as a grab-and-go food … we’re not relying on the dine-in experience a ton for people, so I think that’s helped. It’s a little bit unique, so I think people are excited to try something unique when restrictions did get lifted somewhat. All those things helped.”
Photo Courtesy: Chick’nCone, Frannet