Hilliker Helps Chuck’s Find a “Hot” New Property
2758 Highway K, O’Fallon, MO
Chuck Taylor and Jon Plawsky have a pretty good idea of how important location is to a restaurant. For years, the partners have owned two outlets of the thin-crust, St. Louis-style-pizza chain Cecil Whittakers, one in Wentzville and the other in Maryland Heights. In January, they opened their first Chuck’s Hot Chicken, an original concept built around Nashville-style hot chicken, sharing space with their pizza place off Dorsett Road in Maryland Heights.
But even though the restauranteurs had just launched a brand-new idea, they quickly saw an opportunity for growth in and around O’Fallon, near where they both lived. They decided: Why wait to expand?
“It just seems like Highway K is busy no matter what time of day you’re driving. Storefronts are busy, it’s a growing area and a very loyal community,” Plawsky told the St. Louis Business Journal.
“When you try to get something to eat, especially during rush hour, it’s like everything is packed,” Taylor told Sauce magazine.
Taylor and Plawsky were eager to tap into that Highway K commotion, commerce, and community. They just needed to find the right location, the right building, and the right price. They needed to find the right commercial real estate agent. Fortunately, they contacted Hilliker’s Rebecca Thessen.
The Hot New Thing in Chicken
“Hot chicken” has become the most famous Nashville export since country music. Unfried chicken is dipped into an almost combustible blend of spices and then the fully battered and cooked poultry is so-spiced a second time before usually being served in strips or sandwiched with pickles on a bun. The result is a Tennessee kick in the palate that typically ranges in heat from “mildly tongue-numbing” to “burn-your-face-off.” But regardless of the level of flame, the overall sensation is highly addictive.
At least that’s what Taylor thought when he first visited the Mecca of Nashville Hot Chicken, Hattie B’s, in Tennessee’s capital city. He immediately phoned Plawsky. The two then reached out to Hattie B’s to see if they could open a franchise, but the Nashville company wasn’t interested. So Taylor and Plawsky decided to do it themselves.
The Nashville secret recipe was tough to crack. The pair started to experiment with recipes in the kitchen at Cecil’s in the morning before the pizza restaurant opened and at night after it closed for the day. Gradually, they developed the mix of spices, the sauces, and even the breading that they wanted. They developed a five-tier system of hotness from Level 1: “Just a taste…” to Level 4: “Red Alert” to Level 5: “Heat At Your Own Risk.” They rounded out the menu with a few simple sides, like cheese curds, coleslaw, and, of course, French fries. Then they tested the waters by filling online orders through the pizza place—it was a hit.
Within a couple of months, business was so brisk it was clearly time to spread their wings (or in this case, chicken breasts) further out into the St. Louis metro. Taylor and Plawsky set their sights on O’Fallon and Highway K.
A Turnkey Opportunity on Highway K
Meanwhile, Rebecca Thessen, broker associate at Hilliker Corp. was representing a seller at 2758 Highway K. For years, the 1,600-square-foot space had been home to B.W. East Subs. But the sandwich shop shut its doors for good last year. They left behind the solid bones of a restaurant, like exhaust hoods. Of course, the storefront was in the location Taylor and Plawsky desired. And the prospective buyers were also represented by Thessen—it was a natural match.
The partners are aiming for an opening of Chuck’s on Highway K in early June. The service and menu will be the same as at the original Maryland Heights location. The interior will not be open for dining at the outset, but Chuck’s will have limited patio seating and a robust online takeout ordering model in place.
Meanwhile, Taylor told the Business Journal that will be looking for more locations in and around St. Charles and perhaps even in the city of St. Louis. If that’s the case, they already know the right commercial real estate broker to help them find the buildings.