Memphis, Tenn.-based Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken will finally open its first Chicago restaurant during at 11 a.m. on Monday in Fulton Market, nestled among some of Chicago's most prodigious restaurants like Next and The Publican. But Gus's president, Wendy McCrory, feels the spicy and crispy birds are a good fit for the area.
"I think we blend in with that area very well at a very diverse price point," she said. "It's not fast-food chicken, it's natural, somewhat made to order. They're not going under heat lamps. We don't have heat lamps."
The Chicago spot won't be the first Gus's to serve alcohol, as Oxford, Miss. started serving beer about a month ago. But Chicago will get a selection of specialty cocktails that will pair well with their chicken. McCrory wouldn't divulge details, but said the addition of alcohol won't change Gus's family-friendly feel. This isn't a place to tie one on for happy hour, though they'll stay open until midnight Thursday through Saturday at 847 W. Fulton Market.
Gus's has developed a rabid cult fan base thanks to their chicken batter, a proprietary recipe that requires certain staff to sign non-disclosure agreements. With each suprisingly non-greasy crunch, the cayenne flavor expands, but not to sweat-inducing levels. McCrory and her husband, Matt McCrory, have to take separate plane flights for insurance purposes due to their knowledge of the recipe. The couple opened Gus's first franchise in 2001 in downtown Memphis. They purchased the franchising rights in 2013 from Gus's founders, the Bonner family.
The Chicago spot's using a variety of suppliers, including Pilgrim's for their chickens. They'll still serve them on paper plates, with some regional specials planned for later when they have a better understanding of the Chicago market. Helping out is franchisee Zack Sklar, the busy head of Michigan-based Peas and Carrots Hospitality. In August, he opened his first Chicago restaurant, Bernie's Lunch And Supper, and they're finally launching lunch service on Thursday. He's ecstatic about Gus's, and they gave the Chicago market a taste this summer at the Windy City Smokeout. Chicago's response was so positive that McCrory says they'll do something most Gus's locations don't do: Celebrate a grand opening event. Look for it in two or three months.
McCrory has other plans for expansion to other cities, as Gus's evolves. But she wants to keep an authentic and southern experience. At times, she's been tempted to change menu offerings, but she's sticking to what makes Gus's special. As she said, it's not what they are doing, but it's what Gus's has done that's made it special. Will this be the only Gus's in Chicago?
"I doubt it," McCrory said, which bodes well for expansion plans. "A good answer would be to say 'that's up to the Chicago market,' but I seriously doubt it."