A New York City-based chicken chain is taking on a new business model since reopening during the pandemic.
John Seymour opened the first Sweet Chick location in Williamsburg in 2013. He was no stranger to the restaurant and hospitality business and had previously run and operated an establishment with his wife. However, after seeing how popular chicken and waffles had become, Seymour decided it was time to open up a new place that specifically catered to that meal and expanded upon it.
“I wanted to create a great space where everyone felt welcome. I had heard the story about chicken and waffles being created in the jazz clubs in Harlem,” said Seymour. “I’ve had chicken and waffles before, and saw that it had a bit of a cult following. I loved the dish itself, but no one was taking it as a concept yet.”
Business was booming for Sweet Chick — the brand has since opened another location in Brooklyn, one in Manhattan, one in Queens and one in Los Angeles. Sweet Chick was also given a spot in Citi Field in 2018, where Seymour began to test out their lil’ Sweet Chick business model, which streamlined the menu.
However, like many other local businesses, Sweet Chick had to shut down due to the pandemic. The chain shifted quickly to window service during the early months of quarantine, and once outdoor dining became an option in New York City again, Seymour began to shift the Sweet Chick model to operate like lil’ Sweet Chick at Citi Field, with the current locations adopting the lil’ Sweet Chick moniker.
“I see how that fast-casual model can work. I feel really lucky as a restauranteur that we can reproduce this model. We had a robust menu with a large staff and a beverage director — now we have simplified and sold out of the windows while trying to get back inside,” said Seymour.
Since New York City has begun to allow limited capacity indoor dining, lil’ Sweet Chick has been implementing strict measures to allow for patrons to dine inside if they choose to. Tables are cleaned as soon as diners leave, masks must be worn when not at your table and temperature checks are mandatory for all patrons. Seymor says that though it’s only been a few weeks, the lil’ Sweet Chick business model with the streamlined menu has been successful so far.
“In the landscape of businesses that stayed open and the ones that closed, we are in a unique position because we are not too big, not too small,” said Seymour. “It’s a learning process for everyone, we have to go with the flow. I’m proud of our team, it’s all teamwork at the end of the day.”
As New York City continues to rebuild itself following COVID-19, Seymour and the crew at lil’ Sweet Chick has been working on bringing the community together through their charitable initiatives.
“It so happened that around the time we reopened was when George Floyd was murdered,” said Seymour. “With everything going on in the world at that time, it felt right to do something and get involved in some way. As we rebuild this company, it’s important to have that be a part of who we are.”
Since reopening, lil’ Sweet Chick has been preparing and donating meals for New Yorkers struggling with food insecurity by partnering with local food banks like ‘Feed the Polls’ and ‘Community Fridge’ to reach those in need throughout the city. They even started up their own initiative called “Everybody Eats” to help get more homeless New Yorkers fed as the city faces winter weather.
“A friend of mine was asking about how we could feed the homeless in New York City, especially now that it’s getting colder,” said Seymour. “I reached out to Noel Maguire — we have kind of known each other for years, and he’s been doing programs that fed homeless people for a while. I called him up and asked if he was still doing it, and told him that I can feed 100 people a week if we coordinate some sort of effort. Since then, we have been reaching out to brands and getting support. The plan is to move forward in a real way and start a 501c.”
What does the future of lil’ Sweet Chick hold? Seymour says that they will continue to build their new business model and offer some special collaborations with local chefs, and potentially expanding the menu again. But for now, lil’ Sweet Chick is working to make sure that customers feel safe and secure when dining inside, outside or picking up food.
“We’re all about making people feel confident and eating inside if they feel like they can,” said Seymour. “Hopefully by next spring or summer hopefully there will be new developments.”
For more information about lil’ Sweet Chick, visit sweetchick.com.