The oft-used phrase “everything is bigger in Texas” is a perfect way to define the brand that Church’s Texas Chicken seeks to establish in Canada.
The Quick Service Restaurant (QSR), founded in 1952, has never been shy about embracing its origins and love for all things The Lone Star State.
Speaking of the company, Senior Vice President of International Strategic Development Russ Sumrall says it boils down to one statement: “We’re bringing the legendary, flavorful taste of Texas to the world.”
Church’s Texas Chicken (Church’s) was founded by George W. Church, with the opening of the first restaurant across from the famous Alamo in San Antonio.
The brand first expanded to Canada in 1979, opening several branches in the Vancouver area. However, Sumrall says it wasn’t until around 2018 that Church’s began to focus on other parts of British Columbia, Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan, with Manitoba and the Maritimes being then on the radar.
In the past few weeks alone, new stores have opened in Edmonton, as well as Guelph, Mississauga and Oakville in Ontario.
Overall, Church’s has more than 50 branches from coast to coast in Canada. Seven new restaurants opened in 2022 as of April 15, with 13 under construction and 24 more in the pipeline. Additionally, there are already 24 more locations approved to open in 2023, with many more expected.
Sumrall, who has been in the QSR chicken game for more than 40 years, says he already knew that Canadians love fried chicken, and that the Great White North is one of the best regions for the business.
“Really, 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 bilingual market, Sumrall wants to “create more buying power in Canada, and it makes more sense to ‘have a supply chain system built’.
“We want to implement our strategy wisely and not make any missteps,” says Sumrall. “The name of the game is to select great franchisees and have profitable restaurants.”
To find the franchisees they are looking for, the company relies heavily on “shared values”.
“When I feel like we don’t share values and they don’t have a passion for the brand, I’ll tell them I don’t think we’re made for each other,” he said. he declared. Canadian commercial franchise. “The franchisee-franchisor relationship is like a marriage. You will be together, and love being together as much.
Other characteristics sought by Church’s are investors with an established multi-unit restaurant business and a demonstrated ability to select and secure quality real estate for restaurant development.
In Saskatchewan, the company has signed an agreement with a franchisee who will develop several units, a strategy that Sumrall says it also intends to implement in Manitoba and the Maritimes. As an example, the franchise partner in Saskatchewan has already established brands in other food franchise spaces, which he says is invaluable to everyone involved.
“They have put in place an infrastructure of experienced teams in all departments,” he explains. “By doing so, you create beneficial synergies for the entire company.”
Mian Nadeem is a Church’s franchisee in Ontario. He opened his first restaurant in East York, Ontario in December 2019 and has continued to grow his franchises during the pandemic. Today, it operates six locations in Ontario and has six more locations in its pipeline that will open in 2022.
When asked what he thinks of the brand he has invested in, he replies, “Church’s is everything we could have imagined and more. I appreciate that there are competitors; however, Church’s offers a wide range of food products, and you can tell the brand is passionate about its quality, its team and its overall brand. They do not disappoint.
Nadeem added regarding his relationship with the brand: “Support and structure are key. I cannot stress this enough, because when in doubt, there is always a solution. Everyone at head office is a phone call away, whether there’s a supply issue or whether it’s an OPS, marketing or training issue. There is always a helpful resource and a way to navigate issues. Many brands do not offer such a variety of supports. I appreciate that very much.
Along with the dramatic expansion in Canada, Church’s has given many of its Canadian branches an exciting new design over the past few years.
According to Sumrall, these designs were all “data-driven,” as the company solicited input from 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 that all franchisees had a choice to go ahead with the changes, but once they saw the vision, they were all on board.
“When we showed them this design, almost all of the franchisees said they weren’t going to wait because they understood the power of Texas branding and the design. Canadian franchisees were especially excited about the changes” Specifically, he bragged about the new design’s “to-go” opportunities and focused on technology through features like phone charging stations.
Explaining why the design changes were made, Sumrall says the old locations “didn’t understand the brand position, whereas the Blaze design is about our brand image in Texas.”
As impressive as Church’s locations are, Sumrall is equally proud of the product it offers its customers.
“We really try to be product innovators. In Canada, we’ve launched a lot of chicken sandwiches — that’s a big chunk of our sales — and that’s an area where we’ve done a lot more innovation in Canada than anywhere else,” he says.
When it comes to their products, Church’s restaurants use only fresh, local chicken. The brand’s “original” chicken marinated for 12 hours in liquid, which Sumrall says sets it apart from competitors who only use dry marinade.
“Our Spicy Chicken starts out like the original Marinated Salt Chicken, then after at least 12 hours we add spicy seasoning, then marinate it for another 12 hours. We also use a special, unique spicy flavor batter that is different for spicy chicken compared to a standard batter used by other companies,” he says.
Additionally, Church’s uses an eight-piece cut, while Sumrall notes that many competitors use a nine-piece cut.
“You can tell our chicken is bigger and better than the competition.”
Sumrall also highlighted the company’s honey butter cookies.
“We have specially trained bakers who make them fresh…I think we have distinct and better quality, and better value,” he says. “We’re new to most of Canada and our Canadian customers seem really excited to try something new.”
While COVID-19 has ravaged many businesses, Sumrall says the pandemic has 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 start of the pandemic. Our delivery sales have increased significantly and our product is doing quite well with delivery,” he says.
While the pandemic may have slightly dampened some of the company’s momentum, Church’s growth in Canada remains at full steam.
“God willing, we will smash 100 restaurants in Canada this year, doubling our current level,” he says. “We try to stay ahead of supply chain issues.”
In terms of community support, Church’s Chicken’s primarily shows corporate support for No Kid Hungry, a partnership that has seen the organization provide 10 million meals to hungry children.
“Through our partnership with No Kid Hungry, we engage our guests and employees in campaign activations to raise awareness of child health and nutrition in our communities. Because “at home” we are always proud to do our part,” says Sumrall.
All franchisees also support local organizations in their local communities.
“I give food donations to every community mosque in the cities where my restaurants are located during alternate Friday prayers,” says Mian Nadeem, an Ontario franchisee. “During the pandemic, we offered a weekly lunch to hospitals and frontline workers. We have also offered all frontline workers to show their IDs to get a discount on their meal.
Although this is a long-term goal, Sumrall says he wants the company to become KFC’s “challenger brand” in Canada.
“I don’t think we’re too far to get there,” he said.