The often-used term “everything is bigger in Texas,” is a perfect way to frame the brand Church’s Texas Chicken™ is looking to build in Canada.
The quick-service restaurant (QSR), founded in 1952, has never been shy about embracing its origins, and its love for everything about The Lone Star State.
When speaking about the company, senior vice-president of international strategic development, Russ Sumrall, says it comes down to one statement, “We bring the flavourful, legendary taste of Texas to the world.”
Church’s Texas Chicken™ (Church’s) was founded by George W. Church, with the first restaurant opening across from the famed Alamo in San Antonio.
The brand first expanded into Canada in 1979, opening several locations in the Vancouver area. However, Sumrall says it wasn’t until around 2018 when Church’s began focusing on other parts of British Columbia, Ontario, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, with Manitoba and the Maritimes next on the radar.
In just the past few weeks, new stores opened in Edmonton, and Guelph, Mississauga, and Oakville in Ontario.
All in all, Church’s has more than 50 locations from coast-to-coast in Canada. Seven new restaurants have opened in 2022 by April 15, with 13 in construction and an additional 24 are in the works. Further, there are already 24 more locations approved to open in 2023, with many more expected.
Sumrall, who has been in the chicken QSR game for more than 40 years, says he was already aware Canadians love fried chicken, and the Great White North is one of the top regions for the company.
“Truly, Canada is a driving force for our brand right now,” he says.
Ultimately, Church’s intends to enter Quebec, however, with the province’s unique challenges as a dual-language market, Sumrall wants to “build more purchasing power in Canada, and it makes more sense to have a built-up supply chain system.”
“We want to play out our strategy wisely and not make any missteps,” Sumrall explains. “The name of the game is selecting great franchisees and having profitable restaurants.”
To find the franchisees they are looking for, the company puts a great deal of emphasis on “shared values.”
“When I get the sense that we don’t share values and they don’t have a passion for the brand, I will tell them I don’t think we are right for each other,” he told Canadian Business Franchise. “The franchisee-franchisor relationship is like a marriage. You will be together, and you might as well like being together.”
Other traits Church’s looks for are investors with a well-established multi-unit restaurant business, and a demonstrated ability to select and secure quality real estate for restaurant development.
In Saskatchewan, the company signed an agreement with one franchisee who will develop multiple units, a strategy Sumrall points out they intend to also put in place in Manitoba and the Maritimes. As just one example, the franchisee partner in Saskatchewan already has established brands in other food franchise spaces, which he believes is invaluable for everyone involved.
“They have established an infrastructure of experienced teams across all departments,” he explains. “By doing this, you create synergies that are good for the entire enterprise.”
Mian Nadeem is a Church’s franchisee in Ontario. He opened his first restaurant in East York, Ont., in December of 2019 and has continued to grow his franchises through the pandemic. Today, he operates six locations in Ontario and has six more locations in his pipeline to open in 2022.
When asked about his thoughts on the brand he has invested in, he says, “Church’s is everything we could’ve imagined and more. I appreciate there are competitors; however, Church’s offers a wide range of food items, and you can tell the brand is passionate about their quality, team, and overall brand. They do not disappoint.”
Nadeem added regarding his relationship with the brand, “The support and structure are key. I cannot emphasize this enough because when in doubt–there is always a solution. Everyone at the head office is one phone call away whether there is a supply issue or whether it’s a OPS, marketing, or training issue. There is always a helpful resource and way to navigate issues. Many brands do not offer such a variety of support. I appreciate that very much.”
Along with the dramatic expansion in Canada, Church’s has given many of its Canadian locations an exciting new design in the past few years.
According to Sumrall, these designs were all “data-driven,” as the company had sought the opinions of more than 11,000 customers.
“When we [came up with the new design], we went back to consumers, got their feedback, and ended up with a winning design, The Texas Blaze image,” he says.
Sumrall adds all franchisees had the choice of whether they wanted to move forward with the changes, but once they saw the vision, they were all on board.
“When we showed them this design, almost every franchisee said they weren’t going to wait because they understand the power of the branding of Texas and the design. Canadian franchisees were especially excited about the changes,” he explained. Specifically, he boasted about the new design’s “grab n’ go” opportunities and focus on technology through features such as phone charging stations.
Explaining why the design changes were made, Sumrall says the older locations “didn’t embrace anything about the brand position, while the Blaze design is all about our Texas branding.”
As impressive as Church’s locations are to the eye, Sumrall is just as proud of the product they offer customers.
“We truly try to be innovators when it comes to product. In Canada, we have released a lot of chicken sandwiches—it makes up a good amount of our sales—and that is an area where we have done a lot more innovation in Canada than other places,” he says.
When it comes to their products, Church’s restaurants use only fresh, local chicken. The brand’s “original” chicken marinates for 12 hours in liquid, which Sumrall says sets them aside from competitors who only use dry marinate.
“Our spicy chicken begins as the original marinated savory chicken, then after at least 12 hours, we add a spicy seasoning, and then it marinates for an additional 12 hours. We also use a special and unique spicy-flavored batter that is different for the spicy chicken versus a standard batter used by other companies,” he says.
Additionally, Church’s uses an eight-piece cut, while Sumrall notes many competitors use a nine-piece cut.
“You can say our chicken is bigger and better compared to the competition.”
Sumrall also emphasised the company’s Honey Butter Biscuits.
“We have specially trained bakers who are making them fresh … I think we have distinct and better quality, and better value,” he says. “We are new to most of Canada, and our Canadian customers genuinely seem excited to try something new.”
While COVID-19 has ravaged many businesses, Sumrall says the pandemic created both challenges and opportunities for Church’s.
“We suffered in a lot of markets, but in Canada, we had very good sales except at the beginning of the pandemic. Our delivery sales went way up, and our product does quite well with delivery,” he says.
Although the pandemic may have slightly slowed down some of the company’s momentum, Church’s growth in Canada remains full speed ahead.
“God willing, we’ll break 100 restaurants in Canada this year, doubling where we are now,” he says. “We are trying to keep ahead of supply chain issues.”
In terms of community support, Church’s Chicken’s primarily shows corporate support for No Kid Hungry, a partnership which has led to the organization providing 10 million meals for hungry children.
“Through our partnership with No Kid Hungry, we engage our guests and employees in campaign activations to raise awareness around health and nutrition for children in our communities. Because ‘down home,’ we’re always proud to do our part,” Sumrall says.
All franchisees also support local organizations in their local communities.
“I offer food donations to each community mosque in the cities where my restaurants are during every other Friday prayer,”’ says Mian Nadeem, an Ontario franchisee. “During the pandemic, we gave hospitals and frontline workers lunch on a weekly basis. We also offered all frontline workers to present their IDs for a discount on their meal.”
Although it is a long-term goal, Sumrall says he wants the company to become the “challenger brand” to KFC in Canada.
“I don’t think we are too far behind from getting there,” he says.