Food & Drink | August 19, 2022 7:38 am

Celebrity-Backed Dave’s Hot Chicken Opens Its First NYC Location

Drake, Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Strahan are among the investors in this LA sensation moving East

Spread from Dave's Hot Chicken
Spread from Dave's Hot Chicken
Dave's Hot Chicken

In 2017, Dave’s Hot Chicken was open less than a week before hungry masses started showing up. A sparkling writeup in Eater’s LA edition that year turned the late night chicken spot into a must-try food haven. As the story famously goes, the founders–Arman Oganesyan, Tommy and Gary Rubenyan, and chef Dave Kopushyan–together had $900 they used to buy a fryer; the Rubenyans’ mother encouraged them to start their business the next day. Dave’s Hot Chicken set up in the parking lot near where the Rubenyans’ parents had a flower shop in a Los Angeles’s Thai Town neighborhood.

None of the founders had anticipated the meteoric rise of Dave’s — until developing the recipes for the brand, co-founder Dave Kopushyan had trained with famed chef Thomas Keller at California’s legendary French Laundry and had even been a vegetarian — but the flavor and the press and the social media presence all worked in their favor. It took less than a year for the company to open their first brick and mortar location and leave the parking lot behind. By Fall of 2021, Drake was a minority stakeholder in the company, whose investors also include Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Strahan, Maria Shriver and Tom Werner, Chairman of the Boston Red Sox. Dave’s Hot Chicken opened their 74th location this week: in the center of Midtown Manhattan, at 944 8th Avenue at West 55th Street. It is the company’s first New York City location. 

Each of the Dave’s Hot Chicken sites are fast casual as opposed to fast food, which means everything is made to order, and the chicken is even halal. And the menu is simple: their Nashville-style hot tenders with toasty white bread, pickles; sliders with their kale slaw (always the California influence); both with fries and Dave’s sauce. There’s also Mac and Cheese, Cheese Fries and Milkshakes. You can choose one of seven spice levels, from No Spice to Reaper (which requires a signed waiver and was fed to Usher as a punishment for not picking his kids up from school on time). For a kiss of flavor and heat, go medium, and be aware that those tenders are not some kind of skinny-ass bowling alley fare: in an order of two tenders, these are two giant hunks of chicken, each served on top of white bread. It’s so filling that on a recent visit I make it through just one before I quit, even though I wish I could eat more (turns out you can order just one tender sans bread and fries if you like, as well). The chicken is tender, crispy, juicy, not greasy, the flavor a sweet heat, a lip-tingling tang. A sweetness of white bread and tangy pickles balance out the heat. We’re encouraged to drizzle it with honey for extra flair. 

And since Dave’s Hot Chicken is open until 11pm, it’s a perfect site for that post-midtown-happy hour crowd itching for something salty, filling and crunchy. There’s not a whole lot of complicated ordering, also hearkening back to its parking lot days. “We’re not going to go out with lots of limited time offers and stuff,” says Dave’s Hot Chicken VP of Marketing Dave Crockett. “You want to keep it simple and monitor it right.” Keeping the simplicity, the fun of it all, seems to be key. This is what impressed New York franchisee Suhel Ahmed, a self-described “city boy.” He had been unimpressed by other chicken concepts in the city, but for him Dave’s was different. “[This is] a simple menu, one product, and we do it really well,” he says.  

Indeed, the New York site was purposely chosen for its proximity to the throngs of returning office-goers and steady tourism midtown is known for. Decked out in brightly colored graffiti outside and inside, all designed by boutique design studio Splatterhaus, there’s an attempt to callback to the restaurant’s California roots, the spirit that came from the Thai Town parking lot. This midtown location will be the first of 20 stores opening across the five boroughs, with the next location opening in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. With the company’s cult following behind them — they are over 600K strong on Instagram — they will also open their first location in Dubai this year. It’s wild to see the progression — indeed, you can still scroll all the way back to their beginnings on Instagram, telling people to come out to some tents set up in a parking lot at 5115 Hollywood Boulevard in LA. An added influence from Drake doesn’t hurt, either — upon announcing his stake in the company, the rapper released a statement: ​​”I tried the food, and it was amazing. After meeting the founders and hearing their story I jumped at the opportunity to invest.” Dave’s Hot Chicken also catered his birthday party one year. 

So if you’re in midtown and in the mood for some of that sweet, salty, tangy crunch and heat all with Drake’s seal of approval, Dave’s Hot Chicken is there for you. And if you don’t want to make the trek to midtown, keep an eye out for the 19 other locations opening around the city soon.