Let’s get to know Lauren Fernandez, President of Origin Development Group and Atlanta’s Chicken Salad Chick locations.
Tell us your story and what led you to the path of launching Chicken Salad Chick in Atlanta?
“In 2015, I started Origin Development Group with my partners to grow restaurant brands in the fast-casual space. I wanted to leverage my years in product development and in restaurant franchising into the business of restaurant growth. We vetted a number of brands as our first investment and ultimately chose Chicken Salad Chick. The brand’s unique positioning, value and freshness proposition really resonated, especially since it too was founded by a female entrepreneur.”
What’s the Chicken Salad Chick elevator pitch?
“Chicken Salad Chick is one of the fastest growing brands in the South, delivering a mix of value, freshness and charming Southern hospitality to our guests. Our team at Origin develops the Atlanta, Augusta, and Athens markets and is the largest franchisee for the brand.”
The “Chick Trio” from Chicken Salad Chick
Chicken Salad Chick has experienced incredible growth since its launch. Would you share some of your secrets to success?
“At Origin, our whole company is focused not just on brand growth, but growth as professionals and as people. We’re always trying to improve. We also have the most amazing development team at Origin; I view each member of our team as partners. From the very first time we opened a new restaurant, we took the time to document every single step along the way and asked, “What’s best in class?” Now, each time we open a new restaurant, we have a clear understanding of who does what and when. At the end of each build, we ask, ‘What could we have done better or more efficiently?’”
Your home is in Atlanta but your business ranges from Augusta to Athens to Peachtree City. How is Chicken Salad Chick helping to support the region (creating jobs, etc.)? What do you see for the future of the South?
“Every time we open a new restaurant, we create 50-60 jobs in the market. We are exceptionally proud of the opportunities that we create and the resulting diversity of our team – we are over 85% female and nearly 40% minority! We are also regularly engaged in giving back to the local community. We have partnered with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, food banks and even started a School Partnership Program —we are very active and involved in all aspects of our neighborhoods for each one of our restaurants. This sense of community is what makes the South so special!”
99% of startups don’t make it to $1 million in revenue. What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
“To all entrepreneurs, I’d say it’s vital to stay close to what you know as you build your venture. I was an attorney—not a restaurateur or operator before we formed Origin—but I had an extensive career in food and product development and in restaurant franchising. That experience formed a great base for me that gave me a running head start when we launched. As we prepare to cross another financial milestone year, we still live by our golden rule: people first, process second. When you’re scaling up from $1M to $20MM, you cannot lose sight of your people—both your team and your guests. But you also have to have standards, processes, and procedures in place from the start for nearly every facet involved.”
The importance of product-market fit cannot be understated when it comes to having a startup succeed. How has Chicken Salad Chick created its own niche in the busy restaurant landscape?
“Knowing your customer and your value proposition are vital to growing any brand but knowing what you aren’t is just as important. We aren’t fast food; we do freshly made food and exceptional customer service. It’s also important that you and your team know what the brand stands for, even as you are watching your customer demographics shift over time. We pay attention to feedback; I read every single customer complaint myself.”
What are your favorite chicken salads? Any other favorites on the menu?
“I love our Dill-icious Diva chicken salad with diced cucumbers and fresh dill. I do think our scratch-made pimento cheese is one of the unsung heroes on our menu!”
Who are some of those folks you’d like to give shoutouts to?
“I have a number of people alongside me for this ride who provide endless support and encouragement. These major moments in our careers are always not about us personally, but rather looking around us to the team that got you there. Our Chick Operations team has been largely composed of women, and they are the ones deserve the shout out for making Origin so successful.”
What comes next? What are your goals for 2018 and beyond?
“I’m looking forward to taking on more coaching and speaking engagements focused on empowering women in their careers. I will be launching a workshop soon to assist women in making career changes under my coaching seminars called Speaking Broadly. [link: thefernandezcompany.com/speakingbroadly]. I am always looking for the next brand to partner with for their growth, either in an operations and development role, serving on the board for other companies or perhaps even jumping back full time into leadership. Stay tuned!”
For more information, please visit Chicken Salad Chick’s website or call 844-41-CHICK (844-412-4425). Follow Chicken Salad Chick on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the latest news and special contests from Chicken Salad Chick.
Editor’s note – photo credit for Lauren’s headshot = Cat Max photography