You'll find watermelon every season at Spring Chicken, the fast casual baby sister of successful South Beach and Vegas concept Yardbird. Created by the 50 Eggs Group and visionary restaurateur John Kunkel, it's no surprise that this restaurant has found quick success and already boasts a loyal brand following. In this episode of "Fast Casual Nation," brought to you by the National Watermelon Promotion Board, we sit down with the brains behind Spring Chicken and discover how the idea for this fast casual hatched up.
The space immediately invites guests in, if its whole wall painted with a sign that says "Welcome Friends" doesn't already spell it out for you. With its unique design — what Kunkel called the industrial version of your grandmother's kitchen — consumers already have something to feast on as soon as they step through the doors Its sleek wood structure mixed with green plants and windmill-esque fans bring the feeling of farm and fresh before the first bite.
While the brand is well-known for its chicken product, the team didn't expect their watermelons to be a fan favorite. While at Yardbird, the fruit wasn't so kid-friendly due to its cayenne and pepper spices, at Spring Chicken, the watermelon is flavored with tones of mint, lemon, and lime.
"We certainly didn't anticipate the popularity of the watermelon. So, funny story. Our first week...I walk in the back door and there was this giant mound of watermelon that was a little bit higher than my head, and I'm like, 'What is going on right now?' They said, 'This is the watermelon.' For when? For today!" Kunkel said.
Spring Chicken's commitment to its dishes is quite admirable. It's pretty much housemade everything, from the sauce in their mac and cheese, to the produce they chop up, carve, and chunk every day, to the biscuits they bake from scratch. What results are delicious grilled or crispy chicken; colorful, rich, cobb salads with avocado, roasted bacon, and roasted pecans; barbecue sandwiches; veggie or gluten-free sandwiches; chicken and waffles, and more!
"Our culinary staff jokes that we've probably done everything the hard way for a fast casual restaurant," Kunkel said.
While this commitment may seem difficult in terms of scalability as the brand grows, and Kunkel admits there could be efficiencies they could improve on as they expand, he believes that it is possible to merge the fast-food-industry-solution-solving practice with the culinary lens and sensibility of elevated cuisine.
But back to the watermelon. Why does he think this ingredient has a synergy across Spring Chicken's menu?
"With watermelon, it is one of those beyond popular items that seems to complement the crispy, hot, little, spicy fried chicken that we have, and it's just one of those perfect things as we're in the middle of summer in South Florida. I'm sure it's not slowing down any time soon," Kunkel said.
Want to bite into this creative fast casual? Watch the full episode now!