Chicken salad crosses the road

What pineapple does for pizza it also does for chicken salad, and it’s in those ingredients where Scott Deviney saw a fresh, and fruitful, opportunity.

After years of learning the ins and outs of the restaurant business, both as a banker and franchise owner, Deviney (AB ’95) became friends with Stacy and Kevin Brown, the founders of Chicken Salad Chick. The burgeoning restaurant chain with 32 stores at the time was seeking a partnership, and Deviney was interested for several reasons.

One was the versatility of chicken salad.

“Chicken salad is no different than pizza and burgers — it’s a medium in which you can add different ingredients to create a different flavor,” Deviney says.

“Stacy had created 15 flavors, and the unique part of the 15 flavors is they’re each named for somebody who is important in her life, so whether it’s a best friend or her mother, each flavor has a personality and the flavor somewhat matches that personality.”

Deviney and Eagle Merchant Partners invested in Chicken Salad Chick in May 2015. In the two years serving as the company’s president and CEO, Deviney has helped double the number of Chicken Salad Chick restaurants (now at 67) reaching into nine states (and agreements in place to go into two more) with a growth strategy based more on smarts than swiftness.

“We could certainly be growing faster, there’s no doubt about that,” says Deviney, a native of Carrollton, Ga. “But starting in ’15 and most of ’16 we said let’s stop the growth, let’s pull back in bringing in new franchise owners. Let’s figure out what makes a very good Chicken Salad Chick franchisee and let’s go find them. Let’s figure out what is the right site selection and let’s go find that real estate. So we spent money on infrastructure, some analytical tools — like a real estate analytical tool — to really facilitate the growth. We’re hitting the gas pedal now because we know exactly what we’re looking for.”

It also carries a certain cache other chains crave — a cult following of super-users who visit two or three times a week, a non-frying, non-grilling kitchen featuring a menu of healthy items high in protein, a selection of flavors appealing to a variety of palates, and at its core a key product with a recognized identity from coast to coast.

Recently put atop this year’s Bulldog 100, Chicken Salad Chick is gaining brand penetration through the word of mouth of curious customers. And it’s working.

“In Nashville we have several restaurants, the word starts to leak into the Lexington, Louisville area, partly because they’ll see it in Nashville and partly because they’ll go to the beach and see it down in Destin and Panama City,” Deviney explains. “So we start to get a little bit of brand awareness. As we hit the next state people are already familiar with you, you can infiltrate that state and then go to the next one. We’ll keep going as long as people keep liking you.”

As Deviney looks ahead in leading a company with “plenty of room to grow,” he also thinks back to his time at Terry College and how it set him up for success. UGA gives any student the tools to do well, Deviney says, but being in Terry gives an added edge they might not have otherwise.

“I think Georgia does a phenomenal job of turning people into leaders,” he says. “From Terry they come out so much better prepared than a lot of people because of the classroom setting and the people they bring back to help and teach because it’s all relevant. Terry gives them a little bit of a leg up because they’re set up to win once they hit the workforce.”

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