The San Diego-based Crack Shack concept is scheduled to open its fourth location in Los Angeles on July 21, with a fifth soon to follow in October in Pasadena as the chain positions to ramp up growth next year.
In addition, Michael Rosen, Crack Shack’s CEO and founder, said Friday two more locations of the “luxe-fast-casual” concept are scheduled to open in 2019, including one in Northern California and the first out of state, though they won’t say yet where. An eighth unit, planned in San Diego, is scheduled for late 2019 or early 2020.
Once Crack Shack reaches eight to 10 units, “we might be open to a partnership with a larger company that has better logistics and a national footprint,” said Rosen. “But, for now, we’re really just putting one foot in front of the other and making sure each unit is as good as it can be.”
Crack Shack first opened in 2015 as a sister concept to Juniper & Ivy, the San Diego fine-dining restaurant owned by Rosen and “Top Chef” all-star Richard Blais.
Juniper & Ivy had a rusted shed next door that had a certain chic appeal. Rosen and Blais turned it into a 125-seat open-air restaurant with picnic table seating that served Jidori fried chicken and breakfast all day, with a full bar and bocce court, and Crack Shack was born.
The concept, now operated separately under Crack Shack Enterprises but with shared ownership, has pushed up the California coast, with units in Encinitas and Costa Mesa.
The 6,000-square-foot, 175-seat Los Angeles location will be the first in a mall as part of Westfield Century City, a Beverly Hills-adjacent property that is also home to Eataly, and other high-end restaurants like Javier’s and Petros.
“I feel like we should change our name from Crack Shack to Crack Palace,” said Rosen, describing the décor, which borrows from the original shack design but is substantially more upscale. The restaurant, for example, will be the first in LA with a champagne vending machine serving Moet splits, he said.
Crack Shack’s bar will also have a full line of bubbly on tap and Dom Pérignon, as well as craft cocktails and craft beer, with a heavy happy hour emphasis.
“Sommeliers really understand the brilliance of pairing champagne with fried chicken, but most people experience fried chicken at Bojangle’s or KFC or Popeyes, where they’re not thinking of pairings,” he said.
“We hope to convince people that this is one of the classic pairings of all times.”
Still, Crack Shack offers great value, said Rosen, with an average check of about $16 without beverages, especially given the quality of ingredients.
The Jidori chicken is very fresh and raised without antibiotics, eggs are organic and the “crack” spice is a custom blend from Le Sanctuaire in San Francisco.
In fact, the chicken is so fresh, it is delivered to tables with a card that explains that it might look a little different from other birds.
“It could be a little pink, and that’s because it’s fresh, not because it’s undercooked,” Rosen said.
“If you buy generic factory-farmed chicken, which has a pretty long shelf life, sometimes it has saline, which bleaches out arteries, and it appears more white,” he said.
“Fresh chicken may appear pink and undercooked, so we assure our diners it’s not. This is what fresh looks like.”
There’s bone-in chicken on the menu, as well as a line of chicken sandwiches like the Malibu Barbie Q, with thigh meat, cornmeal onion rings, bacon, pineapple and mustard on a potato roll. On the side are “other clucks,” like schmaltz fries, deviled eggs and biscuits.
Many of Crack Shack’s local executive chefs start out in the kitchen at Juniper & Ivy, which serves as a “triple A farm team,” said Rosen.
Because the operation is so complex, Rosen said the company is not looking at franchising, though they might be open to an international franchise opportunity.
The challenge will be growing a counter-service concept amid increasing competition in the fried-chicken niche.
“One of the things we have to convince people of in LA is, there are a lot of places that serve good fried chicken, but they don’t have the high-end aesthetic,” said Rosen.
“It’s not just that we have a beautiful location, but we use the best ingredients we can buy.”
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