Chicken Salad Chick is a popular fast-casual restaurant that developed in 2007 from a private home in Auburn, Lee County, into a multi-million-dollar business over the following decades, with more than 225 franchises in 18 states. The company began when Stacy Brown, a newly single mother with three small children, combined her love of chicken salad and her need to provide for her children. She perfected her chicken salad recipe in the kitchen and sold it first to hair salons and teachers’ lounges, then to neighbors and friends, to support her family.
Stacy Melton was born in 1974 in Rome, Georgia, one of two children born to Tom and Cheryl Melton. She graduated from the Darlington School, a private college preparatory institution in Rome, and earned a bachelor’s degree in communication from Auburn University in 1999. She married fellow Auburn student Chris Evans in 1997, and the couple would have three children. When the couple divorced in 2006, she was confronted with how to support her children and pay the bills. Stacy had always had a passion for chicken salad and decided, as a self-deemed connoisseur, that she could make the best-tasting chicken salad. Chicken salad first originated when Liam Gray, proprietor of Town Meats in Wakefield, Rhode Island, mixed leftover chicken with mayonnaise, tarragon, and grapes in 1863. She began making it at night after her children were asleep and delivering it by basket, door to door, to potential customers. Local sales increased rapidly, and soon word of her business caught the attention of the Lee County Health Department, which informed her that nothing cooked in a home can be sold publicly. Thus, she needed to develop a different approach.
Meanwhile, Stacy had developed a business relationship with Kevin Brown, a family friend from Eufaula, Barbour County, who had computer and management skills. Together, they decided to turn the home-based business into a new take-out restaurant, the Chicken Salad Chick, on Auburn’s Opelika Road. She created her logo—a “chick” carrying a basket of chicken—from clip-art. With Brown’s business acumen and Stacy’s culinary skills, they soon cultivated a large lunch clientele and sold all 40 pounds of the chicken salad they had prepared on their first day, January 7, 2008. Their partnership soon blossomed into a personal relationship and marriage in November 2008.
Dedicated to a “hands-on” approach, Stacy has served as janitor, cook, cashier, server, manager, and owner. Her product line uses chicken tenderloins, cooked and shredded daily to guarantee freshness. To instill a sense of community, the original flavors were named after some of her friends, so-called “chicks,” in her life. Classic Carol, a mix of mayonnaise, minced celery, and herbs, is the original. Fancy Nancy has apples, grapes, and pecans, and Sassy Scotty contains bacon, cheddar cheese, and zesty ranch. Expanded recipes include Jazzy Julie, Jalapeño Holly, Nutty Nana, Cranberry Kelli, Olivia’s Old South, Luau Lydia, Kickin’ Kay Lynne, Mimi’s Mix, Fruity Fran, and Buffalo Barclay. Chicken salad could be ordered in scoops, sandwiches, or salads. The menu also included pimento cheese and egg salad sandwiches as well as a variety of soups and sides, and for people in a hurry, pre-prepared dishes dubbed “quick chicks.” She later added catering.
With Kevin as president and CEO and Stacy as vice president of brand and product development, the organization thrived and expanded rapidly. In 2012, they decided to partner with a couple with franchising experience who acquired a 51-percent stake in Chicken Salad Chick. When the Browns realized their co-owners had a different vision for the business, they tried to buy back their shares, but the co-owners demanded three times what they had invested four months prior, and within 30 days. After nearly a month of inadequate fundraising, the Browns were rescued by Earlon McWhorter, a 1968 Auburn University graduate who, with his wife Betty, owned McWhorter Properties in Anniston, Calhoun County. They invested the full amount the Browns needed for the buy-out and provided ongoing funds to sustain the business. During the next several years, the Browns continued to develop the menu into 15 flavors of chicken salad and to expand their customer base into neighboring states. After Kevin was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, the Browns and McWhorters sold the majority of the business in May 2015 to Eagle Merchant Partners of Atlanta. Kevin passed away in November 2015, and Stacy remained a prominent spokesperson as a brand voice, equity shareholder, and member of the board, with a stake in guiding the company.
In honor of Kevin Brown’s founding role in the company’s success and a year prior to his death, the Browns established the Chicken Salad Chick (CSC) Foundation in August 2014. The charitable organization partnered with the American Cancer Society and food banks in communities with the company’s restaurants to support families in need and raised many thousands of dollars in its first year. Stacy has also contributed in monetary and material ways to such local enterprises as the Lee County Master Gardeners Spring Tours and the opening of the Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center at Auburn University. She also has given public speeches to civic groups and media interviews regarding women’s entrepreneurship.
With Brown’s upbeat public persona and the leadership of CEO Scott Deviney, who joined the company in 2015, the organization grew rapidly. Between 2015 to 2018, average sales volume per unit jumped from $900,000 to $1.2 million in 150 locations. By 2021, more than 200 restaurants were operational in 17 states. Much of this advancement can be attributed to the 2016 hiring of Carrie Evans as vice president of franchise development; her expansion strategy for new markets built on the success of neighboring franchises and focused on recruiting qualified owners. The company generally seeks families as owners, with about 50 percent being couples.
The growth of Chicken Salad Chick has been widely recognized. In 2014, it won the Restaurateur of the Year award from the Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Alliance. In 2016, Inc. magazine listed the company 37th in its Inc. 5000 ranking of the nation’s fastest growing companies. In 2020, Chicken Salad Chick won the Franchise Times Deal of the Year, and in 2022 it was included in Fast Casual’s top 100 list. In 2019, Brentwood Associates, a California-based private equity firm, bought the business from Eagle Merchant Partners, but Stacy and Scott Deviney remained with the company.
In 2021, Deviney moved the company’s 40 employees to Atlanta, and Brown and the CSC Foundation remained in Auburn. As she moved out of a direct role in managing Chicken Salad Chick, she gravitated into another sector of the food industry with her marriage in April 2019 to King Brasswell, an Auburn landscaper, garden center owner, and restaurateur, with whom she opened a gardening, bakery, gift shop, entertainment, and dining complex named Botanic in Opelika. By 2023, the Chicken Salad Chick chain included more than 225 outlets in 18 states, with new locations in Chicago, Denver, Houston, and Virginia Beach.
- Brown, Stacy. “Feature Interview, Get to Know the Chicken Salad Chick.” Southern Tatler 1 (August-September 2012), http://www.rawconceptual.com/Interview-Stacy-Brown.html.
- Ewen, Beth. “Chicken Salad Chick wins Franchise Times Deal of the Year.” Franchise Times (March 25, 2020), https://www.franchisetimes.com/franchise_times_cover_stories/chicken-salad-chick-wins-franchise-times-deal-of-the-year/article_7ba29c30-516f-5faf-bb97-fbf264ae2bbb.html.
- Manning, Margie, “Chicken Salad Chick founder shares her best business advice.” Catalyst (January 13, 2020), https://stpetecatalyst.com/chicken-salad-chick-founder-shares-her-best-business-advice-with-working-women-of-tampa-bay/.
- “Q&A with Carrie Evans, Director of Franchise Development for Chicken Salad Chick.” Franchise Chatter (October 4, 2019), https://www.franchisechatter.com/2019/10/04/qa-with-carrie-evans-director-of-franchise-development-for-chicken-salad-chick/.
- Wilson, Marianne. “Chicken Salad Chick continues to expand into new markets.” Chain Store Age (January 4, 2023), https://chainstoreage.com/chicken-salad-chick-continues-expand-new-markets.