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WEB EXCLUSIVE Ashley Christensen is itching to expand beyond Raleigh.
And it’s no secret that the James Beard Award-winning chef célèbre is poised to do exactly that with her new concept, BB’s Crispy Chicken, slated to open in June in Midtown East—with additional locations planned to bow soon in Durham and Cary, marking Christensen’s first foray outside the City of Oaks.
It will also be her first fast-casual restaurant (think $6 chicken sammy!) with multiple locations. But Raleigh’s hometown hero has been keeping a grander vision closer to the chest. She’s plotting dozens of BB’s locations across the state—and beyond.
“Our intention is to get it right and scale it,” Christensen told Raleigh Magazine in a sit-down interview this week. “We’d like to get in there and really get it right with these [Triangle locations], and then, from there, we’re already looking at other locations around the state.”
And that’s not all—“it won’t be too long before we’re looking outside of the state,” she added.
That’s a pretty massive shift for someone who’s made her bones right here, not just in Raleigh proper, but in DTR in particular. Her renowned establishments—Poole’s, Death & Taxes, Beasley’s, Fox Liquor Bar and Poole’side Pies, among other ventures—are also one-of-a-kind iconic destinations that helped put the city’s food scene on the map. But like other acclaimed chefs nationwide, Christensen is ready to take the show on the road and build something scalable.
“Everything that we’ve ever done has been in Downtown Raleigh, and I love that for AC Restaurants,” Christensen explained. “I love our team really being focused on their love of this city and the culture and community here. But I’m really excited to put a BB’s in a place where my mom can get there in 15 minutes.”
Her mother lives in Kernersville, nestled between Winston-Salem and Greensboro, so it’s not surprising that both Triad cities are in Christensen’s sights. But why stop there? “I think Charlotte’s a natural fit,” she told us, “and headed out to the coast here as well.”
To make it all possible, AC Restaurants is partnering with Raleigh-based investment firm MDO Holdings—known for such operating companies as Happy + Hale and Rise Southern Biscuits—suggesting its ability to support a regional restaurant chain. (The firm is also in business with the Durham Food Hall, Lonerider Beer and St. Roch Fine Oysters + Bar, among other food and beverage businesses.)
But before any of that can happen, the Raleigh location of BB’s Crispy Chicken needs to kill it. The Midtown East store off Wake Forest Road and the Beltline will come “about 30 days” before Durham’s University Hills location, and the Cary restaurant in the Parkside Town Commons will bring up the rear.
“It’s been really fun to us how excited people are that one of our concepts is making its way even to North Raleigh,” she told us. “I hope it has a really diverse appeal. It’s a great family concept.”
When it opens this summer, BB’s will focus on “shatteringly crispy fried chicken” sandwiches served on brioche buns, with salads and sides on offer, as well as milkshakes, and wine and beer. Customers will have different chicken sandwiches from which to choose too.
That variety—not to mention the celebrity chef behind the brand—will help differentiate it from potential competition, which ranges from the “righteous chicken” at MDO’s own Rise to the “home of the original chicken sandwich” and bastion of homophobia known as Chick-fil-A, which recently announced plans to set up shop a stone’s throw from where the Raleigh BB’s will stand.
Christensen wasn’t aware of the behemoth’s plans, but she remains unfazed.
“We’ll be busier on Sunday,” she said nonchalantly, laughing it off. “They’re different things. I think they will share an audience. I think that people will come to us for different reasons. I hope that becomes a testament to the strength of this brand.” bbscrispychicken.com
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