Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, the prolific Lousiana-based chicken finger chain with a devoted fanbase known as “Caniacs,” is learning that not all that’s fowl is fair — at least in Hobart, Indiana, about an hour’s drive east of Chicago. The fast-growing brand popular with LSU students planned a new restaurant with a double drive-thru and outdoor patio in the Crossings of Hobart shopping center off U.S. 30.
Raising Cane’s filed a lawsuit against the mall and property owner Schottenstein Property Group, alleging that the defendants duped the famously chicken-centric company into signing a 15-year-lease by failing to disclose that a former owner had granted fast-food giant McDonald’s exclusive rights to sell chicken products in the location, according to the Times of Northwest Indiana. The previous restaurant at the site, TGI Fridays, apparently abided by the agreement with a menu devoid of chicken fingers. The agreement between McDonald’s and the mall would seemingly freeze out Fridays Signature Whiskey-Glaze Sesame Chicken Strips from the menu in Hobart.
Lease negotiations between Raising Cane’s and the shopping center began in March 2021 and the chicken finger chain maintains they were misled. Beyond beverages, the only non-chicken items Raising Cane’s sells are waffle fries, coleslaw, Texas Toast, and Cane’s Sauce.
“Despite knowing that the entire business model of Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers is premised on the sale of chicken fingers... the defendants specifically represented to Raising Cane’s that there was no exclusivity right that would conflict with Raising Cane’s ability to operate its restaurant,” Raising Cane’s attorneys allege in the filing. “Defendants even went so far as to purport to sell Raising Cane’s the exclusive right to sell deboned chicken products at the Shopping Center — all while knowing McDonald’s had already been sold that right.”
The Times reports the non-compete clause, something that’s common at shopping centers and other developments, only came up when McDonald’s refused to grant the Crossings a waiver that would allow Raising Cane’s to sell chicken fingers.
Attorneys representing the Crossings of Hobart and Schottenstein Property Group successfully sought to have the case moved to Collins County, Texas, where it is under consideration by the District Court. In the lawsuit, Raising Cane’s asks the court to void the lease and force the defendants to repay “millions of dollars” incurred by development costs and lost profits.
Raising Cane’s, a fast-food option that’s particularly popular among college students, entered the Chicago market in 2017 and opened its first city outpost a year later near Loyola University in Rogers Park.