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How Shaq Is Building a Big Chicken Empire Inspired By Mom’s Cooking

Shaquille O’Neal’s Big Chicken restaurants are a passion project that morphed into a growing business empire.

The success of the former NBA star’s chicken restaurant is on its way to becoming a national sensation — and Shaq says it’s because he has the perfect recipe.

(Photo: Big Chicken website)

All About the Chicken

“It’s simple. It’s all about our chicken,” O’Neal said in a video on the company website. “Hormone-free, antibiotic-free. Always cooked fresh for you, no heat lamps. Five ounces versus the other guy, who gives you half that. Coated with a breading that took us nine months to get right. That’s right. It’s our baby. The finished chicken breast is 100 percent is M.D.E. — the most delicious ever.”

Big Chicken recently debuted in Orlando, Florida, the first in the state and an homage to Shaq’s NBA career. He played for the Orlando Magic from 1992 to 1996. 

During his time with the Magic, he was one of the NBA’s top players, earning All-Star honors and leading the team to the NBA Finals in 1995. Shaq’s time in Orlando helped establish him as one of the league’s most dominant and exciting players, and his departure from the team in 1996 was a major event in the NBA.

Big Chicken Expands

Big Chicken fast food chain is also coming to Philadelphia this month (April), The Inquirer reported. The chain is in 15 states currently.

Big Chicken specializes in Southern-style fried chicken and comfort food dishes inspired by Shaq’s mother’s cooking. One of the signature sandwiches at Big Chicken is The Uncle Jerome, named after O’Neal’s uncle, featuring Nashville hot chicken with lettuce, mayo, and pickles.

“It’s about value and fun,” Jamie Salter, CEO of Shaq’s corporate partner Authentic Brands Group, told Inc. magazine. “Big Chicken is, at its core, what Shaq likes to eat. That’s the best chicken sandwich you’ll ever have because it’s his mother’s recipe,” Salter added.

Shaq, along with a Las Vegas-based JRS Hospitality and Authentic Brands Group, founded Big Chicken in 2018, according to the restaurant’s website.

In 2019, Big Chicken started accepting applications for franchises, with the cost ranging from $450,000 to $1.4 million. There’s a $40,000 franchise fee, and the company takes 5 percent of sales and 2 percent combined for national and local marketing, according to CNBC. By 2022, the company had already sold 200 franchise units.

Shaq’s Restaurant Businesses and Deals

Shaq has been involved in the restaurant industry for many years, and he has also owned other restaurant concepts such as Shaquille’s and Shaquille’s at L.A. Live. These are now closed.

He also owned 155 Five Guys burger restaurant locations and sold all of them in 2016.

He is currently a spokesperson for and investor in Papa Johns pizza.

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