CASEY MURPHY, email@example.com
With a simple menu of fried chicken fingers, Todd Graves went from being told his business idea would never work to opening more than 160 restaurants.
Now, 17 years after opening the first restaurant in his hometown of Baton Rouge, La., Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers is set to open its 45th Texas location and 163rd restaurant nationwide Thursday in Tyler.
“I think it’s going to do great,” said Jason Branum, general manager of the Tyler restaurant. “I think there are a lot of Tyler people who know about Cane’s.”
Construction on a new building near the corner of South Broadway Avenue and Loop 323, next to the First Christian Church of Tyler, began a couple of months ago.
“I’ve been blown away by all the ‘Caniacs’ that have come out of the woodwork here in Tyler, especially since the nearest Cane’s is about 75 miles away in Nacogdoches,” Branum said.
There are 21 restaurants in the Dallas area, and within the next month, the chain plans to open locations in Flower Mound, Wichita Falls, Houston and Lubbock.
“We want to grow Raising Cane’s all over the world,” Branum said.
Branum, 39, of Tyler, said the company plans to open other restaurants in Tyler and Longview, as well as possibly in smaller towns such as Lindale or Kilgore.
Branum said their simple menu sets them apart.
“Our one love is the chicken finger,” he said. “We only focus on one thing.”
He said the chicken fingers are hand-battered and cooked to order and are served with the unique Cane’s sauce, which he described as tangy with a little bit of spice. There are four choices on the menu – the chicken finger sandwich and chicken fingers in servings of three, four or six. Sides include fries, coleslaw and toast.
Branum has worked in the restaurant business since 1996. He worked for On the Border for 15 years, as well as for Chili’s and, most recently, Chuy’s in Tyler. He will now run Raising Cane’s, which will have about 55 employees.
Graves, a business major at Louisiana State University, created a business plan, which earned the lowest grade in his class. The professor said a restaurant serving only chicken fingers would never work, and he was denied loans from several banks for the same reason, according to www.raisingcanes.com .
Graves moved to Los Angeles, where he worked for about a year as a boilermaker in a refinery, then worked for about eight months salmon fishing in Alaska to raise money to start the business. When he returned to his native Louisiana, he got a small loan and renovated an old building. In 1996, he opened the first Raising Cane’s in Baton Rouge, naming it after his yellow Labrador retriever.
Raising Cane’s is heavily involved in its communities and raises money for several groups, Branum said. It focuses its giving to schools, feeding the hungry, active lifestyles, business and entrepreneurial organizations and pet welfare.
“The community has supported us wherever we have been. … We like to give back,” he said.
On Friday, Branum and his crewmembers painted a house for one of the families assisted by PATH (People Attempting to Help), representatives said. Raising Cane’s also was the presenting sponsor of the Tyler Independent School District Hall of Fame Inductee Night during the John Tyler/Robert E. Lee High School football game Friday.
Grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremonies for Raising Cane’s are set for 9:30 a.m. Thursday. The restaurant will open to the public at 10 a.m. and the first 100 dine-in customers will receive a T-shirt and a voucher for a free box combo.
Between Thursday and Sept. 26, customers will be invited to participate in the company’s “Give Back Giveaway” tradition, in which one customer will win a $1,000 donation to his or her local charity of choice, along with free Cane’s for a year.