Broasted chicken is a Wisconsin invention

BELOIT – Confession: I’m a lifelong Wisconsinite who has long enjoyed Broasted chicken and long assumed Broasted was just a term we use in place of fried chicken.  Like bubbler instead of drinking fountain.

Order Broasted chicken and you get this beautiful, golden, crunchy outside, juicy inside, slightly salty piece of poultry goodness. That’s fried chicken. Right?

Wrong.

Kinda.

Broasted chicken is fried in oil. But it is fried, in essence, inside a pressure cooker. Generically speaking, the machinery that can fry and pressure cook chicken simultaneously is known as a pressure fryer.

However, to be Genuine Broaster Chicken requires more than a pressure fryer. The Wisconsin supper club staple food has gone worldwide now, but it all traces back to a 65-year-old Wisconsin institution, complete with patents and a carefully guarded secret recipe. And that story takes us to Beloit, home of Broasted chicken.

Can’t an inventor get a piece of fried chicken? Quickly?

L.A.M. Phelan just wanted some fried chicken. And he wanted it quick. Not able to find a device already capable of completing the task, Phelan set out to create one. In 1953 he combined a pressure cooker with a deep fryer as a simple and fast way to cook chicken. The Broaster Company was formed the next year.

It’s impossible to know if he envisioned the day the Wisconsin-based company that arose from his invention would be shipping Broasters to Saudi Arabia, his secret blend of spices to India or hosting a crew from Estonia for training.

I’m guessing not, but, still, here we are in 2018 and more than 4,000 operators worldwide use Phelan’s pressure fryers and program.

Oh, and by the way, Broasted is trademarked. So is Broaster.

Wisconsin is squeaky cheese curds, fishing spots, Packers fans and time spent by the lake. It’s also the Milwaukee entrepreneur, the Hmong artisan and the dairy farmer. Stories in our Be Wisconsin series look at deeply rooted tradition and at the surprising ways the state culture is changing.
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If you’re not using our pressure fryer, coatings and marinade, says Broaster CEO Jay Cipra, you cannot legally use the name Broasted.

They have good reason to be vigilant.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but that salty seasoning flavor comes through in every bite of chicken, even after the crispy skin has long since been devoured. That’s not an accident.

Deep fried under pressure after marinating and being dusted in a blend of spices that have only seen minimal change since Phelan perfected them, chicken that comes out of Broasters oozes clear juices — on your shirt if you’re not careful.

Supper clubs were early Broaster adapters

About the same time Phelan created the commercial grade Broasters, KFC was rising in popularity. Even though the Colonel eventually adapted his own pressure fryer, franchising a KFC limited a restaurant’s options. Nobody’s going there for an authentic Wisconsin Friday fish fry or prime rib on Saturday night.

Broaster has the advantage of being a brand that a supper club, or any restaurant, can incorporate into menus and signs while retaining its own identity.

These days local favorites like Van Abel’s of Hollandtown, Susters Arcade in Denmark, Gosse’s at The Northwestern House in Sheboygan and Parnell’s Place in Oshkosh are not only Broaster purveyors, but have earned Broaster’s golden chicken award for operator excellence.

Parnell’s Place first served Broaster chicken in 1979, as best as owner Tim Hughes can recall, and was the first in Oshkosh to offer Broasted chicken. Hughes’ father owned the restaurant at the time, but when Hughes bought Parnell’s in 1989, there was never a doubt he was sticking with the Broaster program. Chicken accounts for at least 60 percent of food sales, says Hughes, and on Sundays they’re doing more than 1,000 pieces.

It probably doesn’t hurt that if you can snag a seat in Parnell’s cozy dining area on Sunday, chicken dinners are nearly half-price. Between the quality and the price, those dinners more than live up to Parnell’s tagline of “great food, sensibly priced” on the sign out front. The Sunday chicken price is for dine-in only. Buckets of chicken can be ordered to go without the discount.

Hughes has upgraded the largest Broaster made, one that can cook more than 20 pounds of chicken in just about 10 minutes and uses natural gas as heat, which is more efficient than electric models. Still, Hughes has the original Broaster tucked away. He pulls it out for special caterings around AirVenture time.

As word of Broaster chicken spread through local restaurants, the company carried out its own advertising campaigns.

Broaster now employs 60 full-time staff whose duties include sales, distribution and manufacturing.

Each Broaster is built from scratch in Beloit

Bang. Bang. Bang. The rhythmic sound of metal being molded, cut and otherwise fabricated shares the same space as the scent of spices inside the Broaster 56,000-square-foot manufacturing building. It’s been home to all such operations since 1977, when the company outgrew its facility in Rockton, Illinois. Broaster was sold to Alco Standard Corporation in 1970, before being sold to a group of private investors in 1991.

This is where the company receives shipments of everything from stainless steel to salt that will be forged and blended then shipped worldwide.

Machinists cut sheets of metal and aluminum into needed pieces. Electronics are assembled. Welders. Grinders. Tools of the trade stretch through the shop.

All the blending and packaging happens in rooms secluded from the manufacturing and regularly inspected, same as any food industry production facility.

At the heart of Broaster’s pressure fryer is a cylindrical pot. This, says pretty much every Broaster executive, is a big advantage over their competitors. The round design does a better job of evenly heating the oil and thus cooking the chicken.

At the end of the tour, six machines stand in varying stages of completion. I’m told they’re bound for Saudi Arabia.

Nearby, boxes of packaged spice blends and coatings — Broaster has about 50 different varieties — are racked high enough that a forklift is needed to retrieve them.

Pressure frying cooks chicken faster, and juicier

Putting the deep fryer under pressure cuts cooking time. Broaster’s 2400 model, the company’s largest pressure fryer, can produce 22 pounds of chicken in about 10 minutes. If each chicken meets Broaster’s recommended weight, that’s seven chickens.

The ideal chicken delivers eight pieces collectively weighing three pounds. Chickens that size are younger, says Broaster vice president Gregory West, and more tender.

Though 15 years ago each chicken averaged about 2½ pounds. Today’s bigger chickens have pushed cook time from 9½ minutes to 10½ minutes.

Speed is a boon for places like the Brass Rail in Grandy, Minnesota, that on an average week is serving 120,000 pieces.

The faster cook has another advantage. The quicker your cook meat, the less juice you lose, says Hughes.

It also reduces the amount of oil absorbed by foods.

An independent laboratory test in 2007 showed an order of Broasted potato wedges had 30 fewer calories and 3 fewer grams of fat than potato wedges prepared in an open deep fryer.

“Once we lock down the pressure that sears the outside of the chicken,” West said at company headquarters where they were demonstrating the cooking process. “In traditional fryers, once it gets cooking, the oil can get inside the chicken. In pressure fryer, it sears the outside preventing the oil from getting in. When you bite into the chicken you’re getting the natural juices and flavors and not tasting the oil as much.”

Beer battered cheese curds, fresh chicken tenders and Broaster’s future

Broaster continues to innovate. And it’s more than just what other foods can be prepared using traditional Broasting methods, like pork chops.

Broaster Recipe Foods Division formed in 1992 that produces hot wings, chicken strips and most recently, apple pies. These frozen foods are destined for its Broaster Express line most likely to show up in convenience stores and other food purveyors focused on grab-and-go eats. Places where staff and space aren’t available for the Genuine Broaster Chicken.

In addition to the apple pies, Broaster is releasing a Wisconsin cheese curd made with a beer batter. Yes, the beer comes from a beloved state brewery. They still offer a classic breaded cheese curd option.

West credits another Wisconsin original with helping spread the joys of cheese curds: “Because of Culver’s there is becoming a very strong nationwide interest in curds.”

Also look for fresh chicken tenders coated in a batter that carry on the classic Broasted flavor.

Broaster has also acquired Smokaroma that makes a pressure smoker capable of smoking a brisket in three hours or ribs in 45 minutes. They’re also makers of Instant Burger, a cooking press that turns out burgers from fresh patties in less than a minute.

The guts of the pressure fryer is basically the same. Phelan’s genius lives on in that regard. Today’s innovations are more about improving efficiency both to reduce energy use and training time for staff.

Not that Cipra needs those innovations when doing his Thanksgiving turkey in a 2400 model he has at his home. Just follow the program: Marinate. Season. Pressure fry.

Courtesy of Post Crescent

What’s the difference between Broasted and fried Chicken?

Have you ever wondered, with fingers slicked from the remains of once-golden wings, what is “broasted chicken” anyway? Is “broasted” even a real word? Possibly a portmanteau of “broiled” and “roasted” coined to confuse you around what clearly appears to be simply fried chicken?

Broasted chicken and wedge potatoes are a reliable Midwestern pair but seem largely forgotten for Nashville hot, Korean fried and even honey-buttered. But Broasted chicken is more complicated than it seems, a promising moment in postwar Wisconsin that has now gone global via Pakistan and India, picking up surprising flavors before coming home to roost.

“Broaster is actually a company started back in 1954,” said Jay Cipra, president and CEO of the Broaster Co. Cipra spoke by phone recently, along with Greg West, senior vice president of marketing and food innovation at Broaster. “The company was really based on an invention made by local businessman and inventor (Louis Austin Merritt “L.A.M.” Phelan) in Beloit, Wis.,” said Cipra. “He had a passion for fried chicken and came up with a contraption at the time that was a fryer and a pressure cooker. That was the first patent for a commercial pressure fryer.”

“What evolved shortly after he invented the pressure fryer was not only the equipment, but he came up with his own marinades and coatings. Those taste profiles are what we’re still using today as genuine Broaster chicken.”

Phelan evidently had an affinity for futuristic postwar language too. In 1945, he also invented the Zest-O-Mat frozen custard freezer. Today, trademarked Broasted chicken is still marinated in proprietary Chickite marinade, coated in Slo-Bro coating and pressure-fried in a Broaster pressure-fryer.

“A lot of people don’t necessarily think of it as fried chicken, even though it technically is fried,” said West.

If this sounds somewhat familiar, you may be thinking of the Colonel Sanders origin story — both claim a secret recipe for pressure-fried chicken — but it’s different. There are other pressure fryers, too, and they all cut cooking time nearly in half.

“We were the first ones to make a big splash in the marketplace, especially here in the Midwest,” said Cipra. “You go into Sheboygan or Green Bay or some other towns in Wisconsin, and it’s Broasted chicken land.”

Where can I find Broaster ChickenBut it’s not “true” Broasted chicken unless it follows the whole program. Chicken Shack — open since 1956 in Royal Oak, Mich., now with over 20 locations around Detroit — has always cooked with Broasters, but simply lists “chicken” on its menu since the restaurant uses its own secret recipes.

“While we’re honored everyone wants to call their product Broasted chicken, enforcement of your trademarks is never an easy thing,” said West. “The farther we get from Beloit, enforcement is always a bit of a challenge.”

You can’t get much farther than Pakistan, where Broasted chicken is synonymous with fried chicken — but sometimes not the same. Sadly, I did not have the budget to travel to Karachi on a Broasted chicken quest but did visit some Pakistani restaurants in Chicagoland. While Broaster does now make spicy Chickite marinade and Slo-Bro coating with hatch, habanero and chipotle chile pepper heat, a source at one local restaurant that serves “chicken broast” on its menu said they use their own recipe and fry in an open deep-fryer, not a closed pressure-fryer.

Meanwhile, Mr. Broast in the far west suburb of Lombard makes genuine Broasted chicken, and it’s halal. Abdul Ghani, from Karachi, opened the counter-service restaurant in 2012, said his son and store manager Sarwar Ghani by phone.

“Broasted chicken is really popular on the subcontinent,” said the younger Ghani. While their chicken follows the classic flavor profile, with distinctively crispy skin, what sets Mr. Broast apart are the sauces made from recipes by Sarwar’s mother, Tahira Ghani. Skip the standard barbecue, and get extra white garlic sauce, made with fresh garlic, cream and vinegar. Plus the family began bottling hot sauces last year, including a searing red habanero. Do note there are other Mr. Broast locations, but they don’t have the hot sauces.

If you want the Wisconsin experience, try Millie’s Supper Club in Lincoln Park. Opened in 2016 with a retro woodland vibe, the restaurant offers an all-you-can-eat Broasted chicken meal Wednesdays, with some of the best Broasted potato wedges I’ve had anywhere. Here, a chef’s touch shows with beautifully encrusted bird and fluffy starch. Sit under the moose head, and ask for the relish tray, complimentary but served by request only.

But it wasn’t until I visited Mother Cluckers Kitchen in Jefferson Park on the Northwest Side that I went behind the scenes and into the kitchen to see the making of Broasted chicken, thanks to owner Penny Schweigel.

“We start with fresh chicken every day, never frozen,” said Schweigel. She and late husband Richard Schweigel opened in 2015, adding a second location in Palatine this past February.

Cook Tino Lagunas showed me the raw chicken marinating in the refrigerator. He drained a batch into a colander set over a sink. One by one, Lagunas tossed the chicken into the floury coating. He then dropped each piece carefully into the roiling oil of the Broaster before closing and securing the lid.

Done about nine minutes later, the heady aroma of chicken skin cracklings preceded the appearance of a basket of burnished bird.

“It’s a light coating,” said Schweigel. “You’re pretty much just eating the skin with seasoning, so you don’t feel so bad about eating it.”

Which gets us to the other big question about Broasted chicken: Is it good for you?

The Broaster Co. claims, on its website, that “the pressure seals in foods’ natural juices and locks out the cooking oil,” which is a common but debunked myth. There’s always some moisture loss and oil absorption, though it may be reduced and overall not necessarily a bad thing. You don’t want to eat chicken that’s as wet as it is raw, and some fat enhances flavor.

Consider that in India, an Americana-themed Genuine Broaster Chicken chain launched in 2016, with plans for 300 locations in 40 cities. On the menu? A spicy Happy Fried Chicken on the menu, served with a curry mango jalapeno dip. Paired with a mint lovers pizza, how can that not be good?

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L.A.M. Phelan – Broaster Company Founder

L.A.M. Phelan was a man who refused to accept the adage “It can’t be done.” From boyhood on, successfully applied inventions were his vocation and avocation. When his search for a fast and simple method to prepare chicken led him to the conclusion there was no such method in existence, it was only natural for him to invent one. So with inspiration and perspiration he succeeded in creating Genuine Broaster Chicken and the Broaster Pressure Fryer.

The first Broaster Pressure Fryers were manufactured in 1954 by Flavor Fast Foods, Inc., a company formed under the leadership of Phelan and staffed by people associated with another of his businesses, Tekni-Craft. Two years later, in 1956, Broaster Company was officially formed as a partnership and began selling its line of specialty foodservice equipment, accessories, and food product ingredients through a nationwide distributor organization.

Prior to that venture, as a very young man Phelan worked with inventors of carton-making machinery, oil burners, steam traps, and other items. From 1901 to 1920 he was associated with such concerns and projects as American Car and Foundry Company, Monsanto Chemical Company, Panama Canal project, Allis Chalmers Company, and Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in the fields of invention and development.

Independently, from 1912 to 1920, Phelan was busy inventing and developing the original, non-deteriorating mercury switch on which he eventually obtained 52 patents and the likes of which enjoyed worldwide use.
In 1920 he created the Absolute Con-tac-Tor Corporation for the production and sale of the mercury switch. This company grew from its original location in Chicago, to Beloit, Wisconsin and finally to Elkhart, Indiana. Also to his credit is the fact that he conceived and built the first automatic gasoline pump, the first automatic toilet, the first automatic commercial refrigerator, and first and only automatic continuous ice cream freezer.

In 1928, after an extended period of world travel, Phelan returned to lead the Taylor Freezer Corporation in Beloit, in which he had previously invested. Under his direction Taylor became a recognized leader in the ice cream freezer industry. At that time, there were more Taylor freezers in use around the world than all other freezers combined.

In 1936 Phelan started another enterprise, X-Ray Quality Equipment, devoted to the manufacture and sale of quality x-ray tubes – this at a time when the manufacture of x-ray tubes was mostly confined to the General Electric Company and a few German firms. This organization operated profitably until 1949 when fire completely destroyed the plant.

Meanwhile, in 1945, after many years of legal research, Phelan embarked on a completely unique program of combining the basic principles of profit-sharing, ownership-responsibility, and business management by organizing a group of over forty of his employees into a company known as Tekni-Craft. Tekni-Craft was organized as a partnership of employees using Taylor Freezer Corporation’s plant and facilities to produce the Taylor Freezer line – a plan which is said to have been a tremendous success in every respect.
Still another successful Phelan business venture was a chain of frozen custard stores called Zesto – a nationally operating franchise organization using Zest-O-Mat freezers, which were invented, designed, and developed by Phelan.

As an inventor, designer, manufacturer, financier, and business manager, Phelan was associated with successful inventions and their development all of his life. The crowning achievement of his career came when he invented the “Broasted” chicken process in 1954, a revolutionary method of preparing chicken, and other foods, by combining pressure cooking and deep frying concepts. This process was immediately successful and exists today under Phelan’s creation of Broaster Company, a provider of Branded Food Concepts, Pressure Fryers and other foodservice equipment, manufacturer not far from where Mr. Phelan got his start in Beloit, Wisconsin.

Why Pressure Fry?

Broaster® Operators point to these proven advantages of cooking in a Broaster Pressure Fryer.

Foods absorb less oil

Broaster Pressure Fryers use a sealed, pressurized environment, like a pressure cooker, in which foods are cooked in Broaster Foods Canola Oil. The pressure seals in foods’ natural juices and locks out the cooking oil.*

Use less oil over time

Decreasing oil absorption also results in extending the oil’s useful life and reducing your oil costs. This can represent a big savings over ordinary deep fryer cooking.

No flavor transfer

Since very little oil is transferred into foods in a Broaster Pressure Fryer, there is virtually no flavor transfer among product loads.

Faster, more even cooking

Broaster Pressure Fryers feature a patented round cooking well design that eliminates hot spots and provides superior heat distribution. The result is decreased turn times and less product waste.

* The same study found that energy consumption per pound of chicken cooked was reduced up to 48% with pressure frying while the maximum production rate of cooked chicken per hour was 2 to 3 times greater than that of open frying.

Donkey Dawgs

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Virginia Beach restaurant Donkey Dawgs has been honored as the recipient of Broaster® Company’s prestigious Golden Chicken Award for Operator Excellence. Donkey Dawgs received the recognition for showing dedication to the Broaster quality standard while providing customers a memorable and delicious experience.

Donkey Dawgs has been a favorite among Virginia Beach residents since its grand opening in 2007. Known for its affordable prices and family-friendly atmosphere, the casual breakfast and lunch spot offers signature hot dogs, North Carolina-style barbecue, and Genuine Broaster Chicken®.

“Advertising the Broaster name has brought new business to our restaurant,” says Donkey Dawgs owner Bobby Jones. “Our customers trust the Broaster name and love that our products are consistent in price and taste. Receiving the Golden Chicken Award is an exciting distinction for Donkey Dawgs.”

Since adding Broaster products to the menu in December 2016, Donkey Dawgs’ total profits have increased by 20%. Branded boxes, window decals, and permanent mounted advertising drive customers into the restaurant for the excellent quality they can expect from Genuine Broasted Chicken.

“Donkey Dawgs exemplifies what it means to be an Operator of Excellence,” says Jay Cipra, CEO/President at Broaster Company. “We are impressed by their commitment to providing the Virginia Beach community with a world-class Broasted Chicken experience. It is an honor to have Genuine Broaster Chicken served at such an outstanding establishment.”

Dutch Valley Restaurant

Sarasota, Florida

Broaster® Company has named Dutch Valley Restaurant the winner of the company’s prestigious Golden Chicken Award for Operator Excellence. The popular Sarasota restaurant is being acknowledged for its ability to provide the highest quality Genuine Broaster Chicken® while providing customers a memorable and delicious experience.

The Dutch Valley Restaurant, located one mile east of Siesta Key, opened in 1972 and is owned by Fernando Piney, a restaurant operator who introduced Sarasotians to Genuine Broaster Chicken four years ago. Dutch Valley went from serving one case of chicken per week to now selling three to four cases of fresh Broaster Chicken per day, which equates to roughly 58,000 lbs. of chicken each year.

“Dutch Valley has truly embraced the Broasted Chicken experience,” says Jay Cipra, CEO/President at Broaster Company. “Their increase in chicken sales is not only impressive, but also shows the love that Sarasota residents have for our chicken. Stories like this make us proud to provide our operators a world-class product that people seek out to enjoy.”

The Dutch Valley Restaurant operates three Broaster Pressure Fryers to satisfy their customer’s poultry demands. After 30 days of using one pressure fryer, Piney purchased a second fryer. After 90 days, a third fryer was purchased and more hood space was added to keep up with the popular demand for Broasted Chicken.

“Over the past four years we have generated loyal customers that come back time and time again specifically to experience the taste of Genuine Broaster Chicken, making it a staple item on our menu,” says Fernando Piney, owner of Dutch Valley Restaurant. “Receiving the Golden Chicken Award is very humbling and will give customers a reason to stop in for a high quality Broasted Chicken experience.”

Crandall’s Restaurant

A Community Destination for Generations

Slightly south of the Wisconsin border, resides the village of Hebron, Illinois and like many Midwestern towns has a strong sense of community that is so important to the fabric of America. That sense of community is personified by an establishment located on Hebron’s northwest side named Crandall’s Restaurant. Crandall’s history of community involvement, some of which centers around serving Genuine Broaster Chicken®, has been a focal point for generations of Hebron residents. For their continued success and efforts in remaining a focal point for Hebron as well as their commitment to maintaining Broaster® Company standards, Crandall’s Restaurant has been chosen as the recipient of Broaster Company’s Golden Chicken Award for Operator Excellence.

The history of Crandall’s began in 1957 when it opened as Ken’s Drive Inn & Restaurant in an era when the “drive in” was very popular. They began serving what was to quickly become a local favorite, Genuine Broaster Chicken. This product offering began a decades-long tradition for residents near and far as they sought the taste of this then “new” fried chicken.

After 12 successful years as Ken’s Drive Inn, the restaurant was sold in 1969. Glenn Crandall assumed ownership and subsequently changed the name to Crandall’s Restaurant, thus starting the legacy of the name. Glenn Crandall successfully operated the restaurant for the next 21 years, offering Genuine Broaster Chicken as “all-you- can-eat” on Wednesday nights which proved to be a very popular venture. In fact, since the early 1970’s a group of local patrons have met at Crandall’s once a month on Wednesdays to share stories, reconnect and exclusively eat Genuine Broaster Chicken.

Next in the successful line of owners, Joe Joseph and Jim Zakos purchased the location from Glenn Crandall in the early 1990’s. Joe Joseph was a popular coach of the Alden-Hebron High School Football Team, and as part of the victory celebration in 2003, his team was treated to an all-you-can-eat buffet of Genuine Broaster Chicken at Crandall’s. This winning tradition still continues. Recently, Joe & Jim decided it was time to retire and reviewed offers to purchase the restaurant. With their desire to keep the establishment in local hands, they recently sold to Dan and Judi Beck who assumed the helm of the popular eatery at the beginning of 2014. It is truly a family effort as their son Dean oversees operations in his role of Manager.

Crandall’s feature attraction is all-you-can-eat world famous Genuine Broaster Chicken, previously served only on Wednesday nights. In the early 1990’s, this practice was changed and Genuine Broaster Chicken was made available every night. Crandall’s busiest weeknight is still Wednesday, owing to the strong sense of local tradition. Crandall’s uses three Broaster 1800 Pressure Fryers to produce the volume of chicken needed for the crowds as well as other popular menu items.

As lifelong residents of Hebron, Dan and Judi are keenly aware of their market and have ensured the continued success by not changing what works for the restaurant and its patrons. “We knew we had to make a few changes, but not too many”, says Judi. “We know what our Customers enjoy and we want to continue to deliver the positive experience the community has come to expect from Crandall’s”. Growing up in Hebron, they understand the culture; Dan played football on the Alden-Hebron High School football team and Judi was chosen as the schools’ homecoming queen. Their son, Dean also played as quarterback on the very same field his father played on years before. Dean also enjoyed the reward for a winning game, the trip to Crandall’s for all the Genuine Broaster Chicken he and his winning team could consume…a practice that continues to this day.

The Beck family is active in other forms of community service that directly involve the restaurant. They purchase local meat and produce for their offerings, sponsor and provide food for the Hebron Fire Department Pig Roast as well as the high school’s booster club “Feather Party” Turkey Raffle. Many service organizations, such as the local branch of the Shriners hold their meetings at Crandall’s. Truly an involved community focal point, Crandall’s Restaurant and Genuine Broaster Chicken is a winning combination.

Quality, Consistency are Essential Keys to Emil’s Success

Emil’s Pizza & Sports Bar – Mundelein, IL

Genuine Broaster Chicken has been a major force in helping to advance the success of Emil’s Pizza & Sports Bar, winner of the Golden Chicken Award. Michael Bowes purchased Emil’s in Mundelein, Illinois (population 36,000) 21 years ago after the previous owner retired and saw the business continue to prosper.

Bowes states that he uses from 20-25 cases of chicken per week to produce golden, mouth-watering Genuine Broaster Chicken. “Customers drive great distances for the chicken; some from as far as 60 miles away”.

Emil’s, which seats 110 and offers carryout, also offers Broaster Foods® products such as chicken tenders, mozzarella sticks, onion rings and jalapeño peppers.

Michael touts quality, consistency and the helpfulness of his Broaster Distributor, Wood Food Systems as essential keys to the success of his business. “The distributor is always there when I need them”, says Michael.

As for the future, Michael plans to expand the Emil’s brand with the opening of additional locations. “Genuine Broaster Chicken will be a part of all future stores”.

Minnesota’s Brass Rail Honored for Operator Excellence

About 50 miles north of Minneapolis resides the town of Grandy, Minnesota. According to the 2010 census, Grandy’s population was listed at 118; however, Grandy boasts a restaurant that attracts customers from throughout the state, primarily for its Genuine Broaster Chicken®. As a result, Brass Rail has been honored as the latest recipient of Broaster Company’s Golden Chicken Award for Operator Excellence in a celebration at the restaurant on August 30, 2017. The restaurant received the recognition for its history of commitment to the Grandy community, as well as their legacy of serving Genuine Broaster Chicken. “Careful consideration goes into presenting the Golden Chicken Award because we take such pride in all of our operators. Deciding on a recipient is not easy,” said Jay Cipra, President/CEO of Broaster® Company. “Brass Rail is exemplary of our many operators who do exceedingly well and are beloved by their community.”

Brass Rail was established in Grandy by the Biggins family and is now owned by Rod Knowles. Historically the building housed a trading post, a telephone company, a garage, and several different bars in 1926 and 1939 before becoming the establishment it is today.

Since 1972 Genuine Broaster Chicken® has been sold at Brass Rail, which has led the restaurant to being recently named the ‘Best Chicken in Minnesota’ by CBS Minnesota. Brass Rail serves over 112,000 pieces of chicken a week in their small town. To cook this massive amount of chicken, Brass Rail has 9 Broaster 1800 Pressure Fryers with an additional 4 Broaster 1800 Pressure Fryers in their catering trailer.

“It’s an honor for us to have Genuine Broaster Chicken served at an establishment that has such great value in their community,” said Tracy Choppi, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Equipment Innovations at Broaster Company. “They do an excellent job offering our world-class product and operating as a great destination in their community.” Brass Rail’s employees are dedicated to following the Genuine Broaster Chicken Recipe and are always prepared for the next order.

C-Stores Heat Up Chicken Programs

Chicken offers c-stores an ideal platform for incorporating the bolder, hotter flavors customers crave.

Even as consumers’ tastes evolve and younger generations say, “the spicier, the better,” chicken remains a popular menu item for convenience stores. 

In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 2018, Americans were projected to have eaten a record 93 pounds of chicken per person.

Its unwavering popularity and serious versatility makes chicken a great platform for other trends, like flavor mash-ups and extra spice — and offers c-stores an easy way to balance innovation and convenience. 

FLAVORS AND FORMS
Chicago-based market research firm Datassential’s SCORES database tracks limited-time offers (LTOs) and new product launches. The firm asks consumers to rate them on a variety of metrics in order to determine how appealing a product is and how likely it is to be successful.

“One of the things that I noticed with the high-scoring items is a use of chicken as a platform for a lot of other trends in the industry,” said Jackie Rodriguez, Datassential senior project manager. 

She said “chicken can go way beyond the traditional” — and cites the Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese Sub from Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based c-store chain QuickChek as an example.

“Buffalo chicken and mac and cheese are two of consumers’ favorite items, but because it’s a c-store item, where handhelds are really important, they put it in a submarine sandwich platform,” said Rodriguez. “And that did really well in terms of uniqueness.”

She said sandwiches are an easy way to incorporate new flavors and forms, but it’s certainly not the only option. Casey’s General Store, for example, also has Buffalo chicken on the menu: Buffalo Chicken Pizza.

Because pizza is so universally loved, yet consumers are increasingly adventurous when it comes to topping variety, this is a great area to integrate chicken with other trends, too.

The chain has several specialty pizzas that include chicken, such as a Chicken, Bacon & Ranch Pizza and Taco Pizza, which can be topped with either chicken or beef.

But Rodriguez said Caseys’ Spinach, Artichoke and Chicken Pizza, an LTO that began in March, was “almost off the charts in terms of consumer appeal.” 

“It might be because it’s something that they don’t always see at a c-store,” she said. “Pizza is a great platform for showcasing chicken, maybe with ingredients that customers haven’t seen before.”

Rodriguez said Datassential found that overall, boneless chicken is preferred for consumers on the go.

Phil Carper, of Phil’s One Stop, a c-store chain in northern Indiana and Ohio, partners with Broaster Co. for its chicken program at six of 18 total locations. He said boneless chicken options, like the chicken tenders, are one of the stores’ best-sellers. “It’s a great product,” he said.

KenJo Markets operator Helen Potter said customers at the company’s Johnson City, Tenn., location, also a Broaster partner, are “always looking for a good value” from chicken foodservice along with grab-and-go convenience. 

Her customers also happen to be looking for chicken liver. “We sell a lot of liver,” she said. “Forty pounds a day.”

Both she and Carper mentioned spicy popcorn chicken as one of the most popular offers, and Potter said customers who typically purchase spicy food are younger, in their 20s or 30s.

SOME LIKE IT HOT
In fact, one of the most significant changes in consumer preference, particularly among young consumers, is an increased taste for spicy food. 

For example, Atlanta-based RaceTrac’s Nashville Hot Chicken Taquito has been a top seller since it launched on Feb. 6, according to Tiffany Plemmons, senior category manager for RaceTrac, which operates more than 500 stores in the Southeast. It’s now one of the company’s top roller grill products.

“We were excited to launch a new limited-time-offer product that resonated with our consumer as well as hit on a hot new trend — Nashville Hot Chicken,” said Plemmons. “The product has a hot, spicy flavor mixed with fried chicken with a hint of pickles.”

But spice doesn’t have to come from the chicken itself; sauce is an easy way to add an extra kick to any chicken product.

Potter said KenJo Markets’ house-made Buffalo sauce is a customer favorite for that reason.

“Honey mustard or ranch are the most popular sauces,” she said. “But if they want spicy, they get the Buffalo sauce.”

And a Datassential study shows that many customers do.

“We had people with a barbecue sauce or a mustard that can be spicy or not,” said Rodriguez. “About one-quarter of people said, ‘The spicier, the better. Just let me have it.’”

She attributes the increased popularity of spicy foods and sauces, in part, to “the emergence of global cuisines.” 

We’re more exposed to different cultures now than ever before — and we occupy more cultures, too. 

With more than 60 million members in the U.S, according to consulting firm BridgeWorks, Generation Z is larger than millennials and two-thirds the size of the baby boomers. 

And according to a Pew Research Center report, Gen Z, born between 1997 and 2012, is not only the country’s largest generation, but also the most racially and ethnically diverse.

This means young consumers are familiar with a wider variety of cuisines than generations before. That’s not going to change, so retailers must adapt instead.

Many c-stores are adapting, adding not only Mexican foods like taquitos to the menu, but also Thai food, for example, like Pittsburgh-based GetGo’s Spicy Red Thai Chicken Curry, which Rodriguez said rated highly by consumers for both uniqueness and likelihood of purchase.

“Not necessarily that all of the food in, say, Thai cuisine is spicy, but certainly compared to traditional Italian food, for example, it has more complex and typically hotter spice levels,” said Rodriguez. “Spiciness overall is definitely trending.”

While some members of Gen Z might say, “the spicier, the better,” Rodriguez said it depends on the dish. But no matter an individual’s preference, she said most young consumers are more attuned to flavor complexity overall and how different spice levels enhance their food.