Fried chicken's been coated in all kinds of crazy things, but only in L.A. could a super-trendy restaurant chain thrive by coating it in – sorry Colonel Sanders -- chocolate.
ChocoChicken has only been open only a week, but it's already got the buzz – and plans to expand.
The chicken isn't fried in chocolate sauce. It it is lightly coated with a special cooking chocolate made from bittersweet cocoa. And, yes, the free-range chicken does fry up a shade of chocolate brown.
"Sure, it sounds super goofy," says Adam Fleishman, co-founder of ChocoChicken, which opened last week near the Staples Center in Los Angeles and plans another location this year in Santa Monica. "But it doesn't taste goofy. It tastes amazing."
For more chocolate, you can douse your chicken with Chocolate Ketchup. Side dishes include White Chocolate Mashed Potatoes and Duck Fat Fries that are sprinkled with chocolate seasoning. Chocoholics also can order Electric Chocolate S'mores for dessert.
About 95% of the entree orders are its fried chicken -- mainly because there are few other offerings -- and the smell of warm chocolate permeates the 175-seat (inside and out) store.
Fleishman didn't concoct the concept. That came from co-partner and self-taught-cook Keith Previte. A third partner, Sean Robins, a film and TV producer, has helped lure a Hollywood crowd. Fleishman, whose Advantage Restaurant Partners, also owns the trendy Umami Burger and 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria brands, helped fund the ChocoChicken format. And he tweaked the super-secret seasonings, too.
"All of the ingredients are secret," he says of the ChocoChicken entree with two pieces of chicken and fries that goes for about $15 -- slightly more for all-white meat. "All I can say is that the marinating, coating, seasoning and frying process all contain some element of chocolate."
Restaurant success increasingly is all about appealing to Millennials who demand unusual taste combos, and also are eager to snap a photo of whatever they're about to eat and post it on social media. ChocoChicken's gotten plenty of that.
"Best chicken wings outside of Buffalo," said one Facebook post from fan David Crvelin.
At least one restaurant consultant – who has eaten there already – says ChocoChicken serves good grub. "It actually tastes good," says Howard Gordon, former marketing director at The Cheesecake Factory. "But I think it's more a big-city thing – where people are into things that are new and different."
Fleishman plans to start small – with just another Southern California location or two in the next year. But he expects to have six stores in 2015 – including one in New York City – and eight stores by 2016. Ultimately, he estimates, ChocoChicken could be a 500-store chain and over time expand to Asia, where chicken is quite popular.
This is not the only new chicken mash-ups: In the Philippines, KFC recently began offering Crispy Cheese Chicken, fried chicken marinated in cheese and breaded with bits of cheese-flavored chips.
But with his own burger, pizza and now chicken restaurant concepts already in motion, Fleishman concedes he's already got another idea cooking that has Southern California stamped all over it. "I'm thinking vegan."