Another potentially national restaurant concept is starting in Wichita, and the person behind it is a familiar face with some of the other chains that have started here.
Max Sheets, along with a silent partner, will debut three Chick N Max quick-service restaurants in the new year.
The first is opening Jan. 8 in the former Freebirds World Burrito space on Hillside just south of Central.
The second will open in the former Freebirds space in the Village at Greenwich at 21st and Greenwich.
“I was able to get both these in one fell swoop,” Sheets says. “Part of growth is that real estate’s a game of opportunity, and we felt like there was great opportunity here to do these quickly.”
The third Chick N Max will open this summer in the same retail center in front of Twin Lakes at 21st and Amidon where Huddle House is opening. The center is along the same row where Wendy’s and Pizza Hut are.
The Twin Lakes Chick N Max will have a drive-through. The other two will not.
“The idea behind this whole concept is to be nimble, to be able to go lots of places,” Sheets says.
He expects to have another one or two Chick N Max restaurants in Wichita before the end of the year and then will look at going elsewhere.
“I think that there’s a lot of room for growth in the chicken business,” Sheets says. “I think that’s what people are gravitating to today is chicken, and we give a healthy option with our smoker.”
There will be smoked and fried chicken.
“Our batter and our flour is very unique,” Sheets says. “You hate to say the secret herbs and spices once again. I think someone’s used that already. But we’ve kind of got our own special blend.”
He says there will be whole wings, “not drummies and wingettes,” and whole, half and quarter smoked chicken along with five side dishes, including greens, fries, macaroni and cheese, cole slaw and white beans.
“We cook to order,” Sheets says. “Everything we do is fresh, nothing frozen.”
It may seem like there’s a lot of competition in the chicken segment, but Sheets says he isn’t concerned.
“The gorilla’s Chick-fil-A, and I mean who can argue with their success?” he says. “I hope that we’re as people-focused as they are. … I admire that.”
In addition to serving customers, Sheets says his employees will be a big focus.
“This is about creating something that’s way bigger than me,” he says. “It’s about people. It’s about people finding a path. … This is a place where we want to create opportunity.”
Sheets’ experience in the restaurant business “started with Pizza Hut when I was a kid.”
That was with franchisee Jamie Coulter, with whom Sheets worked for a number of years, including with Coulter’s Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon and Fox and Hound.
He also worked with Ted Turner scouting sites for his Ted’s Montana Grill.
“I did all the development for him all over the United States,” Sheets says.
Most recently, he was in real estate development for Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers.
“I’ve got a long history in the restaurant business, and I understand growth,” Sheets says. “Growth is what I’ve always been a part of, and that’s kind of when my phone would ring is when somebody was ready to grow a concept. All of a sudden I came into play.”
That’s why he says he’s already thinking nationally for Chick N Max.
“My background is development from coast to coast, and so that’s definitely where we’d like to go.”
This is Sheets’ first venture of his own. He was close to doing something previously but it “fell apart right on the goal line.”
Sheets would like to follow in Lone Star’s path.
“Lone Star grew quickly. You know, Lone Star’s a great growth story, and we’d like to pattern ourselves something along those lines.”
Brad Saville of Landmark Commercial Real Estate handled the deals for the first three Wichita Chick N Max sites, and Landmark’s Craig Simon also was involved in the deal for the one at Twin Lakes.
Sheets acknowledges that three restaurants might sound like a lot to start with, but he says that “it’ll make us media-efficient quicker, and it’ll give us penetration in the Wichita market quicker.”
“Hopefully these will take off, and the rest will fall into place.”