Apparently, Hay River residents love chicken, even more than anyone could have predicted.
Dwayne Buhler is finding that out as the owner/manager of a Chester’s franchise, which opened on March 18.
Since that date, Buhler has not been able to keep up with customers lining up outside his takeout in the Caribou Centre.
“I can barely be open for an hour and a half and I’m cleaned right out of everything I can put out,” he said.
Buhler said the demand is more than he ever expected.
When he opened the small business, he set its hours from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., but that has now been changed to 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., or basically lunchtime.
Buhler said many people think that Chester’s is a fast-food franchise, but the chicken is marinated and hand-breaded on site before it goes into the fryer.
“That’s why it tastes as good as it does and people are liking it, but that’s also why I can’t produce the demand, at least at this time,” he said.
Plus, the outlet’s fryer can handle 25 to 30 pieces at a time for a process that takes 20-25 minutes per batch. Every fourth batch, the fryer also has to be cleaned, which takes about 25 minutes.
“So we can only put out a certain amount a day and that’s an issue people are having, that there’s just not enough to serve even half of the people that want it,” said Buhler.
The new business owner recognizes that it’s good that people like the food, but he feels bad that he and his two employees cannot provide enough to meet the demand.
“It’s just the demand is super high,” he said.
Buhler said it is possible that he will expand in the future to meet the demand, which would include a bigger fryer.
“I want to let this level out a little bit, as well,” he said, explaining he wants to make sure another fryer would be worth the investment. “Because they are very expensive, and I do have a lot of money already tied up into this.”
Buhler recognizes that being too popular is an unusual problem for a new business.
His request to customers is to be patient, he said. “And if you’ve been missing out, I apologize, but we’re doing the best we can with what we have to work with.”
The 35-year-old was a mechanic at Diavik Diamond Mine before deciding to start his own business.
“I like challenges,” he said. “I wanted to do something different. I wanted a change. And this was about as extreme as it gets.”
The very first customer at Chester’s in Hay River was Allyn Rohatyn.
“I started the line-up,” he said.
Rohatyn knew Chester’s offered good chicken because he had some years ago in the South.
“I knew that he was going to be very busy because people were really waiting for him to open,” said Rohatyn. “What I was surprised at was the fact that there was such a demand for it instantly.”
Customer #1 hopes that people are patient enough and understanding enough to give Buhler a chance to get everything in order and running smoothly.
“I mean when you become a business entrepreneur and you used to be working on engines as a mechanic and then all of a sudden you’re preparing chicken for people, that’s a big transition,” said Rohatyn. “I know he can do it.”
Buhler noted that Chester’s criteria for a new franchise considered that Hay River has no through traffic and considered the town’s population.
“But clearly they did not take into account that there’s not a lot of food choices,” he said.
Buhler said he knew the outlet would be busy. “But I did not anticipate this.”
Chester’s is an American franchise company based in Alabama. In Canada, outlets are often found in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and on the West Coast.