Emerging Brands

5 things to know about: Starbird

How a tech-focused chicken concept is revving up real growth with virtual brands.
Photo courtesy of Starbird

Buzzworthy Brands is a bi-weekly Restaurant Business podcast and feature highlighting innovative growth brands. Listen to the conversation with Starbird co-founder and CEO Aaron Noveshen here.

Starbird co-founder and CEO Aaron Noveshen already had more than a decade of experience as a restaurant consultant with The Culinary Edge before starting the fast-casual chicken chain.

Noveshen brought his consultant knowledge to bear at Starbird, a six-unit brand that is accelerating its growth plans even amid the pandemic. San Francisco-based Starbird entered the ghost kitchen space about a year ago and is adding a suite of virtual brands.

Starbird chopped salad

Here are five things to know about Starbird:

  1. Starbird debuted in 2016, after Noveshen and his partners decided chicken would be the next big growth area. “Burgers were starting to wane,” he said. “Chicken consumption was on the rise.” That year, the concept got a $5 million investment from a group that included restaurateur Greg Dollarhyde.
  2. The concept differentiates itself with a health halo—despite a menu of fried chicken. All of the chicken is antibiotic-free, the coating is gluten-free, and it is cooked in rice bran oil and served with “a lot of nutrient-dense vegetables,” he said. Plus, the chain’s line of salads makes up about 30% of systemwide sales.
  3. Starbird is currently closing a round of funding, with plans to open three new units by January. The chain is on track to add six to eight new locations next year, he said.
  4. Employee retention is a big focus for the brand. When COVID hit, Starbird gave raises to all employees and offered them extra meals to take home. The chain launched an education program, giving workers up to $5,000 a year to pursue studies.
  5. Starbird opened its first ghost kitchen about a year ago and is adding more. The chain has added a number of virtual brands, all under the Starbird banner, such as Starbird Wings, Starbird Salads and Starbird Bowls. A plant-based concept called Garden Bird will launch in the coming months. “They’re growing tremendously,” he said. “We’ve had several days where the virtual brands are doing better than the core brand.”

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