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Executive Chat, Sam Stanovich, SVP Franchise Leadership, Shaq's Big Chicken

How does Shaq's Big Chicken Soar Above the Competition?

Inside the Phenomenon of Big Chicken with Sam Stanovich, SVP Franchise Leadership

by Rebecca Patt, SVP & Partner, Wray Executive Search

Ever wondered how a fast-casual joint, born out of the mind of NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, could soar above the competition? Meet Sam Stanovich, the powerhouse steering development and alliances, one of the masterminds behind Big Chicken's meteoric rise. Hatched from the glitz of Vegas in 2018 and growing to over twenty booming locations nationwide, Big Chicken has become a force to reckon with, boasting a whopping 370 more in the pipeline.


Big Chicken isn't just a restaurant; it’s where celebrity-backed charisma and a carnival of bold flavors collide, from finger-lickin' fried chicken options to tantalizing shakes.


Get ready for an exclusive peek into the heart of Big Chicken, where Sam shares the behind-the-scenes magic that propels Big Chicken into a league of its own.


How did you get involved with Shaq’s Big Chicken?

In 2021, Josh Halperin, our CEO, called me up. He and I have had a 10-year relationship, dating back to when he was the head of sales for Anheuser Busch, and I was head of industry relations for the National Restaurant Association. He said, hey, I'm looking at this opportunity. Could I review my pitch deck with you? Could you help me refine it?


I saw the opportunity and was speechless. We had talked about doing something together and he was looking for somebody who could join him to help develop and build the franchise leadership role at Big Chicken. I was at that point where I was looking for that next opportunity. To get to work with somebody that I have immense respect for and have a relationship with and get along with and have different skill sets than I have, I said, let's do this.

Tell me about the most exciting growth and development news at Big Chicken.

So the new news coming into ‘24 Is that we now have over 370 restaurants in development with thirty-three franchise partners. And this year, we are going to go international. We opened our first international location in Manchester, England, and we just signed a development deal to go to five countries in Central America. So not only do we have tremendous domestic growth and are going to open over twenty-five restaurants in the US, but we are going to start opening restaurants in Central America and the United Kingdom this year.

The chicken sandwich category is really competitive. What makes Big Chicken the best?

So we believe in big flavor, big food, big fun. We have a bigger-than-normal chicken sandwich, and what we like to focus on is a complete flavor wheel for all our consumers. We're really focused on something for everybody. And because chicken is the number one protein, we look at having everything from a traditional sandwich all the way through to Nashville Hot or Buffalo. We have sandwiches that we build some combinations with. We have a barbecue chicken sandwich.


And really what it all does is it encompasses Shaquille O'Neal's childhood favorites and love and passion for chicken and the chicken sandwich and incorporate that with our chefs and his partners who came up with the additional flavors. So that way we are welcoming and encompassing for all because that's important to Shaquille is that there's something available for everybody on the menu. We have chicken sandwiches, chicken tenders, popcorn chicken, great French fries, and decadent milkshakes.


It is very high in quality and very laser-like focused. Then, all our restaurants have fun and exciting music. We play some fun stuff on the TVs and every restaurant has a Shaquille O'Neal NBA Jam edition video game for four players that is free. So, we really tried to turn our restaurants and today big food big flavor big fun atmosphere.

What is it like working with Shaquille O'Neal?

He is one authentic, outstanding human being. What you read and see about Shaquille's generosity and his love for people and children is who he is, whether it is in the front of the house or the back of the house. He understands the opportunities that he was given, and he loves to give back. That playfulness that you see is authentic to who he is. Whether he's in front of a group or he's behind the scenes, he's always having a good time.


He likes to know his people. He likes to sit down and share his table when he's in a restaurant. He takes pictures with people, and he just wants to have fun. He understands who he is and the opportunities that he's been blessed with, and he just really wants to give back. That's what was important with Big Chicken and this being his brand, is how we treat people. We have that fun. We give them a great product. He stands behind the quality, and we really just promote it and then work with our franchise partners to be successful.

What do you look for in recruiting franchisees for Big Chicken?

We look for those who are multi-unit, multi-concept partners because these things are very busy and move very quickly. We look at those for whom it isn't the lore and excitement about doing something with Shaquille. That's like the cherry on top. We look for those operators who have established operations, who talk about service, culture, and people, and then and then they're excited about Shaquille because they know that Shaquille isn't going to be there every day. They're partners with Shaquille but, you know, that's not the main driver. It's hospitality and servicing the customers.


If somebody comes in and goes, oh, we need to turn the whole restaurant into a testimonial to Shaquille, and all our marketing needs to be that, that's not what we're about. We're about serving great chicken sandwiches, fries, and shakes. That's what we're focused on. And then like I said, the cherry on top is having the exposure with Shaquille and his love and passion for it.

Tell us more about the food.

Right now we are launching our strawberry cake shake. And what's neat about it is the shake was created by one of the young ladies on our team who started with us in college and is now on our training team. She thought about the recipe and then worked with our corporate chef Rob Ryan to come up with the menu item, and we're debuting that strawberry cake shake right now.


Now so again, you know when you talk about Shaquille and the empowerment of his people, he's not going to design it all. He looks for the team to come up with a solution that he can support and likes and is on brand. So, that's a great example of leadership and trust in the team.

What's your favorite thing to order on the menu?

Right now I am all in the barbecue chicken sandwich. But in the last almost three years my flavor profile has moved around. So, I started with the Uncle Jerome [Nashville hot], and then for a while I went with just the traditional sandwich. Then I hit the Buffalo, and now I'm on to the barbecue. What's interesting is my shake tastes have changed because I used to just be a salted caramel guy. Then I went to the peanut butter chocolate and now I'm hooked on that, and now I'm looking forward to trying the strawberry cake shake that I've heard so much about.

Check out to learn more about Big Chicken.


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