Big Chicken opens next week in Hixson

Franchise owner plans 20 similar restaurants across Tennessee offering favorite Shaquille O’Neal dishes

Contributed Photo / Hall of Fame basketball star Shaquille ONeal displays chicken sandwiches at Big Chicken. On Monday, franchisee Jim Richards plans to open his first of the Big Chicken restaurants started by O'Neal in Hixson. Another Big Chicken will open in downtown Chattanooga in April.
Contributed Photo / Hall of Fame basketball star Shaquille ONeal displays chicken sandwiches at Big Chicken. On Monday, franchisee Jim Richards plans to open his first of the Big Chicken restaurants started by O'Neal in Hixson. Another Big Chicken will open in downtown Chattanooga in April.

Two days before his 52nd birthday, legendary basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal is bringing his home-cooked childhood favorite dishes to Chattanooga with the opening of a new Big Chicken restaurant in Hixson on Monday.

Located in a rebuilt former Steak 'n Shake that closed in 2022 at 5118 Hixson Pike, the new fast-food chicken outlet is the first of at least 20 Big Chicken restaurants planned across Tennessee by one of the franchise owners for the growing restaurant chain.

"Traditional Southern dishes are incredibly popular in Hixson, so we're confident that Big Chicken's big flavor and big food will quickly resonate with guests from around the area," Jim Richards, a former vice president of franchising for the Krystal Co. who is the franchise owner for Big Chicken in Tennessee, said in an announcement of the restaurant opening.

To celebrate his first Big Chicken outlet, Richards said the first 34 guests in line when the Hixson outlet opens at 11 a.m. Monday will receive free Big Chicken sandwiches for a year, limited to one sandwich per month. The 34 guests represent the number on O'Neal's jersey, which was officially retired in 2012, during his time with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Richards is redeveloping another site in downtown Chattanooga for another Big Chicken scheduled to open in April in the former All Books location at 410 Broad St., which also shut down in 2022. Each of the sites is near one of the Five Guys restaurants Richards also operates.

The new Big Chicken restaurants include seating for 60 to 70 patrons and have a staff of about 25 employees at each of the 3,000-square-foot locations, Richards said.

O'Neal helped launch Big Chicken in New Orleans in 2018, and the chain has since grown to nearly two dozen stores with plans to open more than a half dozen other locations in the next few months. From crispy chicken sandwiches and tenders to Cheez-It crusted macaroni and cheese and hand-crafted ice cream shakes, each menu item tells a story all while offering guests an inside look into the life and personality of O'Neal, according to a news release.

The menu features the original Big Chicken sandwich for $7.99 and the bigger "Shaq Attack" chicken sandwich for $8.29. Popcorn chicken boxes with hand-breaded diced chicken thighs range from $8.29 to $10.79, and three-piece tender chicken meals are priced at $7.79 each. Big Chicken also offers an array of salads, macaroni and cheese dishes, dirty fries, and signature milk shakes and treats.

  photo  Contributed photo / The Big Chicken menu features a variety of childhood favorite dishes by retired NBA superstar Shaquille ONeal, including chicken sandwiches, tenders and popcorn chicken shown here along with dirty fries and other sides.
 
 

(READ MORE: Where's the best fried chicken in Chattanooga?)

The new Big Chicken in Hixson is one of a half dozen restaurants that have recently or will soon open around Northgate Mall or along Highway 153 or Hixson Pike, including Popeye's Louisiana Chicken, Cava, Taziki's Mediterranean Café and McAlister's Deli.

(READ MORE: Restaurants grow around Northgate Mall)

Big Chicken has more than 250 locations under development for the long term. Company CEO Josh Halpern said he is looking forward to a big entrance in Tennessee with the experience of Richards, who has worked in the restaurant industry for the past four decades with a number of different brands.

"The excitement that Jim brings to his businesses couldn't be any bigger and is exactly what we look for in our franchise owners," Halpern said in a statement about the new Chattanooga restaurants. "If I had to choose one phrase to describe my excitement for Jim and his partners' first Big Chicken opening in Tennessee, it would have to be 'big kudos.' This is just the beginning – there is so much more growth on the horizon for this talented group."

Richards and partner Brion Voges are owners of GPR Hospitality LLC and are working with associates Andrew Gardner, Bruce Bowman and Rodney Hutson on the new Big Chicken locations in Chattanooga. Richards also operates the local franchise for Five Guys and for Fiamma Pizza Co. restaurants.

Along with O'Neil, Big Chicken is backed by JRS Hospitality and the Authentic Brands Group. Big Chicken has locations open in Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Seattle; Houston; Tannersville, Pennsylvania; Fayetteville, Arkansas; Clio, Michigan; Carson City, Nevada; Gilbert, Arizona; Rosemont, Illinois; and in the Dayton, Ohio region, as well as in metro-New York's UBS Arena; the Comcast Center in Philadelphia; the Moody Center in Austin, Texas; Arizona State University's Mullett Arena; Palm Desert, California's Acrisure Arena; St. Louis's Busch Stadium; Arizona's Footprint Arena; Kansas City International Airport and on four Carnival Cruise ships.

Big Chicken is among numerous businesses O'Neal has been a spokesperson for and investor in during the past two decades. The NBA legend has appeared in commercials promoting Icy Hot, Flexall and Gold Bond products for the Chattanooga-based Chattem and its parent company, Sanofi Consumer Healthcare, for 19 years as the brands have grown steadily in brand recognition and sales.

In 2019, O'Neal joined the Papa John's board of directors and invested in stores in the Atlanta area. In addition, he became the spokesperson for the company as part of the three-year contract.

To learn more about Big Chicken in Hixson, visit bigchicken.com/hixson.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340.

  photo  Staff Photo by Dave Flessner / A new Big Chicken fast-food restaurant will open Monday at 5118 Hixson Pike, shown here Thursday. The site was renovated after the Steak 'n Shake in the same building closed in 2022.
 
 


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