In May 2019, he dreamed he was bussing tables at a Porch in Dallas and flew to the Big D to scope out locations. He remodeled the former sports bar to include a 1,400-square-foot covered patio with faux grass and a pickup window.
“We’re trying to bring Nashville hot chicken to the masses in a cool, fun environment,” Fortune says.
The most popular item at each restaurant is the chicken tender plate, which comes in multiple levels of spice alongside Southern sides ranging from mac and cheese to French fries and collard greens.
Fortune pushes the authenticity of his chicken, prepared with a traditional heat application that produces a crunchy bark. It’s an important distinction with so many hot chicken restaurants in the neighborhood, he says.
Sanchez and Caswell prefer their own take on the fiery bird. They experimented with three or four recipes before discovering the right combination.
“By nature, you instantly become competitive,” Sanchez says. “You want to try and dominate the market. If you take a step back and analyze it, there’s more than enough staying power for the three of us. It’s all different—the way it’s battered and brined. You’ll never get the same type, even though we’re all serving the same cuisine.”
The spicy delicacy spread through East Dallas like wildfire, but will the upward trend last? Francois Reihani, the Dallas restaurateur behind Pok the Raw Bar and La La Land Kind Café, says neighbors should think twice before jumping on the hot chicken bandwagon.
“Trends tend to pull out people who might not have done hospitality,” he says. “They see the lines out the door and think restaurants have crazy margins. It rushes them to think, ‘Let’s do this,’ and it doesn’t always go well for them.”
Chirps and Lucky’s have gone all in on hot chicken, but Palmer’s has diversified its menu, which Fortune says will help the restaurant survive if the hot chicken trend cools. Beyond hot chicken, Palmer’s serves catfish, shrimp salad, tacos and wraps.
“Hot chicken has an addictive quality,” Fortune says. “When big chains are introducing Nashville hot chicken nationally, it has staying power.”