The owners of Sugarfire Smoke House and Hi-Pointe Drive-In are diving into a new market: chicken.
Chicken Out, a fast-casual and chicken-centric concept, is scheduled to open in the Delmar Loop this spring. The restaurant will be on the northeast corner of Skinker and Delmar boulevards in the former Piccione Pastry space.
Mike Johnson and Charlie Downs of Sugarfire are partnering with Ben Hillman of Lewis & Clark Capital for the project. Hillman has previously worked in operations for national companies like Mod Pizza and Smashburger, as well as independent restaurants in Washington, D.C.
Johnson has had dreams of opening a fried chicken restaurant in the former building of the Church's Chicken at the same intersection for years. While that structure is gone, Washington University in St. Louis, which owns the building that housed Piccione, reached out to Johnson about the opportunity to open a restaurant in the space. Johnson already had the perfect idea of what to put there.
"It was kind of serendipitous," Hillman says.
According to a press release, the menu will offer elevated chicken sandwiches with a focus on high-quality ingredients. Some highlights of the menu will be the classic Chicken Out, made with seasoned fried chicken and crispy pickles on a potato bun, and the ChicRib, a fried chicken breast tossed in Sugarfire's sweet barbecue sauce and topped with red onions and pickles. Even vegetarians can get excited about the restaurant: Chicken Out will also have a plant-based version of its chicken sandwich on the menu, called the Faux Hawk.
"It's gonna be really simple," Johnson says. "I'm actually kinda calling it faster-casual, because it's somewhere in between fast-casual and fast food."
Hillman and Johnson both say that while there are a lot of awesome, regional fried chicken sandwich brands across the country, many of them haven't reached St. Louis yet.
"We're trying to fill that need," Hillman says.
He also says that he is excited to bring a different approach to chicken sandwiches to the city, especially ones that are high-quality and delicious.
"I get asked all the time, 'What's going to be different about your chicken?' And I keep coming back to the word 'authenticity,'" Hillman says. "Just elevated recipes. In order to be successful, we have to have the best ingredients and we have to be creative in how we approach a more traditional segment."
Chicken Out is scheduled to open in late April or early May.
"We're excited," Johnson says. "We've been thinking about this for a long time and we're looking forward to bringing something awesome to St. Louis, hopefully."
Editor's note: This post was updated to include comments from Mike Johnson.
Chicken Out, 6197 Delmar Blvd., St. Louis, Missouri