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Zaxby’s, the Georgia-based chain that specializes in chicken tenders, chicken wings and salads, plans to open four restaurants in metro Baton Rouge over the next few months.
A franchise restaurant at 1850 W. La. 30 in Gonzales, near the Interstate 10 exit, should open at the beginning of October, said J.J. DeRoy, director of market development for Zaxby’s corporate restaurants. At the end of October-early November, a company-owned restaurant at 34071 La. 16 near Watson is set to open, while a Zachary location on Main Street, across from Wal-Mart, should be open by mid-December.
The chain has also applied for a permit to build a third company-owned Zaxby’s, in the Long Farm traditional neighborhood development at Airline Highway and Antioch Road. The city-parish Planning Commission should vote on the final development plan for that restaurant at its Sept. 21 meeting. Once ground is broken on the restaurant, it should be complete in about four months, DeRoy said.
Each restaurant will have about 40 to 60 employees. The restaurants will be about 3,500 square feet and have seating for 90 people.
Zaxby’s is making aggressive moves in a market dominated by Baton Rouge-based Raising Cane’s. The chains have similar menus, with a signature meal consisting of chicken fingers, fries, coleslaw, Texas toast and a tangy sauce. But Zaxby’s offers a variety of other dishes, including chicken wings, Buffalo chicken tenders and salads topped with grilled, fried or Buffalo chicken.
DeRoy notes that Zaxby’s has done well in the crowded marketplace for fast, casual chicken. After all, the chain has grown despite being in the shadow of Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A, the largest national chicken restaurant.
“We certainly know the competition is out there,” he said. “That’s the nature of the beast we have to deal with.”
It’s the other menu items, such as the wings and salads, that cause Zaxby’s to stand out, DeRoy said. “The chicken tenders are great; they got us to where we are today,” he said. “But our fresh approach to the process can’t be compared. And our guests see our true value when they look at the variety of menu items.”
Zaxby’s was founded in 1990 in Statesboro, Georgia, near the campus of Georgia Southern University. The company has grown to nearly 700 locations in 16 states. According to QSR magazine, which tracks the quick-service and fast-food industry, in 2014 Zaxby’s posted nearly $1.26 billion in sales. That put Zaxby’s as the 25th-largest quick-service eatery in the U.S., sandwiched between Jimmy John’s and Five Guys Burgers and Fries.
Zaxby’s, which opened its first Louisiana restaurant in West Monroe in 2012, now has six locations in the state, including stores in Lafayette, Ruston, Monroe and two in Bossier City.
“They’re more of a regional brand, but they’re aggressively growing toward the north,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a food industry research and consulting firm based in Chicago.
Despite the local popularity of Raising Cane’s, Tristano said there are a lot of opportunities for Zaxby’s in Baton Rouge. KFC, which long dominated the chicken market, has “hit the wall” and seen sales slide for the past five years. McDonald’s, which sells plenty of chicken sandwiches, has seen its sales plunge by 11 percent in the past year.
“There are shares to be gained from McDonald’s and KFC,” he said. “That’s where Zaxby’s will see it’s shares come from, not from other fast-casual chicken chains.”