Tom Gordon and Greg Smart. Their names aren’t as recognizable to the average Northwest Arkansas resident, but it’s a good bet that you’ve visited their establishment on more than one occasion.
It’s a story of a local company, starting from humble beginnings and achieving success here at home and abroad.
Starting a business is like a roll of the dice. “For us it was just true, back against the wall… like you either make it or you go bankrupt. And we just had to make it,” says Tom Gordon. “We’re pretty much go big or go home guys.”
For Tom Gordon and Greg Smart, the creation of Slim Chickens was poultry in motion. Greg Smart, co-founder of Slim Chickens says, “There wasn’t anybody here doing that. The market was right and it was a good opportunity.”
Taking advantage of the growth explosion in Northwest Arkansas, both Smart and Gordon began to formulate their recipe for success. And it all started in a garage. Gordon says, “We came back and started working on the recipes and the menu..working on the concept of the brand. And we started testing food….turkey fryer in the garage.”
In 2003, Slim Chickens was born with its first restaurant on College Avenue in Fayetteville. And the reviews were positive. “When we started seeing repeat guest within the first few weeks, People liked it and they came back, I said that we’ve got something here,” says Gordon.
But with success, comes the occasional hiccup. In one instance, the young entrepreneurs tried cutting cost to a favorite menu item. That plan backfired. Gordon says, “We thought that we could save money by using different dipping sauces and not our own stuff. Saving money. One shift at both restaurants and we ’bout had a revolt. The guest went crazy. And we decided midday to throw it right in the trash.” Greg Smart says about the flub, “We vivid remember it today because we didn’t do it anymore. We learned that lesson 15 years ago… once and didn’t repeat.”
Both Smart and Gordon used their newfound wisdom to grow the brand at a rapid pace. In more than a decade, Slim Chickens posted locations throughout Arkansas and 13 other states. But growth in America was just the tip of the iceberg. “I don’t think anyone of us could say 10 years ago if that was a dream of ours,” says Smart.
Chicken tenders were becoming a popular dish in the Middle East. And Slim Chickens was selected by a business group in Kuwait to build a restaurant in their country in May 2017. That opening led to three more restaurants openings in London. Smart says, “It’s almost overwhelming. I never fathomed to see this small brand, this brand that started in Fayetteville, Arkansas travel halfway around the world to the Middle East and see lines of people wanting to come in the restaurant… look and feel as the same there as it is in Fayetteville.”
With the roll of the dice, Greg Smart and Tom Gordon found success. And in an area where Fortune 500 companies rule the landscape, Slim Chickens hopes to one day, make their rise in the pecking order. “We want to be in the same conversation when they talk about this area of the country. Walmart, Tyson, JB Hunt and Slim Chicken.
Slim Chickens has over 80 restaurants in operation, with hopes of hitting the 100 mark by the end of 2019.