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Emerging Brands

Birdbox in San Francisco threatens to steal the fried chicken sandwich limelight

This fast-casual concept from the creators of Birdsong has become known for the signature dish Claude the Claw.
Birdbox opened in San Francisco earlier this month with the best seller Claude the Claw sandwich. /Photo courtesy of Annamae Bafia.

These days it’s not easy to stand out in a nation crowded with fried chicken sandwiches, but the new Birdbox in San Francisco is grabbing attention.

This fast-casual spinoff of the two-Michelin-star Birdsong opened its first brick-and-mortar unit in the city’s South Park neighborhood next to Oracle Park. Partners Chris Bleidorn and Aarti Shetty first introduced the Birdbox menu as a pop-up in 2020, when the tasting-menu-focused Birdsong was forced to shut down during the pandemic.

But the more-casual Birdbox was a hit, in part because of the social media fame garnered by one of the signature offerings: a sandwich dubbed Claude the Claw—a deboned thigh and drum with the claw still attached.

But the goal is not shock value. For Bleidorn and Shetty, it’s totally on brand.

Birdsong and Birdbox are whole-animal concepts. The partners believe that sourcing whole birds with head and feet intact ensures both quality and that the animals have been raised humanely. Serving a $20 chicken sandwich with the claw attached sends a message that the free-range, organic and pasture-raised chickens have been sourced from local farms (Pasturebird and Mary’s Chicken).

“Working with whole animals has given us the opportunity to rethink what we are conditioned into believing are the ‘best parts,’ the bits that are ‘fit for the table,’” said Bleidorn and Shetty in an emailed response to questions.

“Disconcertingly, chickens produced in the industrial poultry factories are often so battered that their legs and heads must be removed. Years of these practices has allowed all of us to become accustomed to and readily accept chemically sterilized and detatched pieces of meat,” they  wrote. “Claude the Claw is only scary or controversial when viewed through this distorted lens. It is, in fact, the chickens that make it out whole that are more likely to have lived happier lives. It isn’t hard to image that this results in better-tasting meat than that of chickens whose only taste of life was a cramped cage.”

Those who might object to certain chicken parts have other options.

Birdbox’s menu also includes a fried chicken breast sandwich ($14), along with a vegetarian fried hen of the woods mushroom variation. Guest can pick their flavors, including a Classic Yeast (three kinds of yeast with Yeayo Sauce, or mayo mixed with yeast), Spicy Falcon (a spicier version of the Yeast sauce with double-fermented chilis), or Hot & Tangy (sambal with honey and herb slaw).

Diners also have the option of Birdboxes ($20-$28), packed for a picnic, which include a half or quarter fried chicken with cornbread and Raging Falcon hot sauce, along with a choice of seasoning. Or they can select “bird parts,” including drumettes, flats or tenders with various seasonings or sauces ($22-$26).

Fries cooked in schmaltz are also on offer, along with cole slaw and a salad option that can be topped with chicken.

For dessert, there are a Cheesecake Pie and Shaved Ice.

Birdbox has opened with takeout only and a limited menu for now. The two-story, 50-seat restaurant was designed in collaboration with Studio SAINT, which also created Birdsong. Beer and wine options will also be added down the road.

The two partners say they plan more Birdbox locations in the Bay Area over the next five years, and then possibly open elsewhere in California.

“Our goal to be a small healthier cog in the giant wheel that is the poultry industry can only be realized if we can build more shops and expand our customer base,” they wrote.

Meanwhile, the full-service Birdsong has resumed operation, albeit with a smaller team because of the challenging labor market, they said. The restaurant is operating at lower volumes for now, but the partners said they aim to rebuild the staff to maximize that dining room.

“Birdsong is designed to tell a different story and it’s been great for our team to return to do what they do best in that space,” they said.

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