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Concept to scout: secrets of David Chang’s fast casual

fuku interior

Traffic at the Fuku fried-chicken concept in New York City was so heavy during Week One that the tiny store had to shut for two days to readjust to the demand. What’s the attraction?

It’s not speed of service. Lines have been so long that management relocated the queue to a side street nearby. A doorman signals when a party can leave the head of the line and come inside—where they wait in another (albeit shorter) line to order. Then the serious hang time starts. The wait on a recent Friday topped 15 minutes—at 2:30 in the afternoon.

It’s certainly not the appeal of customization or choice. Patrons have their pick of a chicken sandwich or a chicken sandwich. A seasonally changing Fuku Salad is offered, but the size makes it more of a side, the only alternative to french fries. The entire food menu consists of four items. The cocktail list is double that—from whiskey-gingers to margaritas—even though the place is only open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Nor is comfort a selling point. About 40 customers are packed inside, either waiting for their food (they’re given flag-like number stands to hold so runners know to whom to hand an order) or eating from metal trays at elbow-to-elbow standup counters.

The food certainly is part of the appeal. An oversize, deboned chicken thigh is brined, marinated in a habanero puree, dunked in buttermilk and dredged in spices before being deep-fried and served on the sort of potato hamburger bun a home cook might stock for a weekend barbecue. 

fuku spicy chicken sandwich

But the irresistible pull comes from the credentials of the guy who hatched Fuku. It is the brainchild of Chef David Chang of Momofuku Noodle Bar, Ssäm Bar, Milk Bar and Má Pêche fame. Fuku, supposedly, is his riff on Chick-fil-A.

Restaurant operators have an additional reason to check out the place. A chicken sandwich, side-size salad and can of soda came to $17.42. Multiply that by the hundreds of people who line up, factor in the percentage who buy an alcoholic beverage, and the sales tally comes up as a series of dollar signs, followed by sighs.

And that’s from a kitchen consisting of several deep fryers and heat lamps, staffed by three cooks, an expediter, a person packing to-go meals and three runners. 

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