Raising Cane’s is known for delicious, freshly cooked, never frozen chicken fingers that make you think you’re back home in Mama’s kitchen or on Grandmama’s front porch in the summertime with your cousins.
Todd Graves got the idea of building a truly good chicken finger restaurant while in college, and his story is an incredible entrepreneurial adventure. He prepared and submitted his business plan, but his college professor said that it would never work. Sadly, the banks agreed with the professor and Graves found himself without the capital he needed to make a go of his dream.
Not one to be dissuaded, he set out to work to make the money he needed to open his dream. He signed on as a boilermaker in a Los Angeles refinery, putting in 90 hours each week, and then moved on to commercial fishing for sockeye salmon in Alaska where he worked 20-hour days in dangerous conditions. He saved his money and nurtured his dream.
Returning home, he was able to take the money he had saved from sheer hard work and get a Small Business Administration loan to begin work on what is now called “The Mothership” of all of the businesses. He set out to, with the help of some friends, completely refurbish an old building near the LSU campus. While redoing the interior, the work crew discovered an old mural painted on the brick wall. This mural, and the memories it evoked, became the logo now seen in all 131 Raising Cane’s restaurants.
“People often want to come behind the counter and touch the actual logo,” said Cy Martin, general manager of the Raising Cane’s at Parkdale Mall. “It does look like it is recessed into the old brick wall, but in reality, it is the painting on the brick that gives it that appearance.” Martin has been with the company for some 10 years, beginning his work in Louisiana stores and moving to Beaumont to open this branch in May 2012. “I believe in our food and I love what I do,” he said, stopping to speak to each of his employees and nod at some of the customers who are waiting to be served.
Graves said that when they opened the first store Aug. 26, 1996, it was such a hit that they stayed opened until 3:30 a.m. because folks were still ordering chicken. He at first considered naming the chain “Sockeye Salmon,” but somehow that didn’t quite fit with chicken, so he looked at his beloved yellow lab and decided to name it Raising Cane’s. The pet’s name is Cane and Graves was raising him, or perhaps it was the other way around. The name stuck, people liked it, and now it is becoming even better known with the opening of each new store.
Martin happily shared statistics showing how the chain of chicken finger stores was being received. “Well, we now have 131 stores, so that tells you something,” he said laughing. “I believe we are now in 16 states, but we add a store often, so I would have to check on that.” The manager said that the company has moved up and is among the top three chains in its food category.
“We are No. 2 when it comes to rankings of overall customer service, and we’re proud of that,” said Martin. “All of our employees are urged to keep customer service their top priority. We have a good product and we keep it simple. The one thing we can always offer along with that is a smile and a pleasant attitude to busy customers.”
Martin said that people often ask him why they don’t you add this or that to the menu.
“We really don’t want to have a lot of other items,” he said very seriously. “We do chicken fingers right, our homemade sauce is good, and we do have the toast, french fries, and coleslaw, plus drink selections. Why mess it up?”
We learned during our visit that all of the chicken served is fresh and never frozen. It is delivered three times each week to each location. Bread is delivered four times each week. “One of the secrets to the good taste of the chicken,” said Martin, “is that it is soaked in a brine solution for up to 24 hours to help make it tender and tasty. There is no water in our batter. You will only find fresh milk and eggs and some seasoning that we have chosen.” Like all good cooks, Martin wouldn’t share the exact seasoning, but he assured us that it had been perfected. “We also make both of our sauces — the Cane’s and the honey mustard — from scratch each day.”
The chicken fingers and french fries are never put under heat lamps, so there is no drying out or toughening to deal with when the food is served.
The pricing for the meals and trays is competitive. Larger amounts of chicken fingers can be ordered for football games, birthdays or other parties, church group gatherings, office parties, celebrations or family reunions. One hundred chicken fingers go for $89, and the largest order Martin has made to date is one of 1,500 for a large group. The restaurant is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. every day other than Sunday, when they are open from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.
Discounts are available for seniors, military personnel, police officers and first responders. “All they need to do is mention their contribution,” said Martin. “We are all about being good partners with the community.”
Martin also emphasized that Graves and the entire company focus on community involvement wherever a store is located. “We want to be active partners within the community, and in our case, all of Southeast Texas,” said Martin. “We are big on any charities working with kids, the protection and care of animals, and the area where our stores are.” He pointed to a recent $1,000 check given to the Southeast Texas Food Bank in recent weeks.
The Raising Cane’s store in the Food Court at Parkdale Mall has 25 employees and the overall company now has more than 5,000 employees, so one young adventurer is providing a lot of jobs. Martin also mentioned that Graves was chosen to appear on the pilot episode of the television show “Secret Millionaire” because of his business plan, hard fought desire to build a good company, and for the number of people he has helped.
Brenda Cannon Henley can be reached at (409) 781-8788 or at brendacannonhenley [at] yahoo [dot] com