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Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Southern Classic


It's a scene that plays out every day across northwest Louisiana … The clock is ticking toward noon.

Breakfast is an ancient memory. You're starting to droop, and your mind is wandering like a lost dog. Suddenly, through the fog, the warm aroma of cayenne pepper wafts through your mind. You hear that sizzle that emanates only from a deep fryer. Involuntarily, you begin to salivate, like Pavlov's dog. In a flash, your mind and belly are consumed with the one thing you know will get you through the afternoon: golden, crispy, delicious chicken.

You jump in the car and join the herd like so many cattle. The line already snakes around the building and spills out into the street. Undeterred, you take your place in the queue.

The line lurches forward. It's moving faster than you realize because your mind is singularly focused. Panic suddenly overtakes

you. That voice in your head whispers one menacing thought: "What if they run out of chicken right before I place my order?" As your mind flips through a Rolodex of vastly inferior alternatives, your heart races. Finally, you hear the only words that will restore peace to your day: "Welcome to Southern Classic. May I take your order?" Your heart rate returns to normal. Your mouth begins to water anew. A few minutes later, life is good as you sink your teeth into that juicy, tender goodness that is Southern Classic.

Or maybe that's just me. No, it can't just be me. If it were just me, Southern Classic would not have grown from humble beginnings as a local, family-owned restaurant into the regional phenomenon it is today.

I remember a debate in my office years ago. It wasn't about which restaurant had the best chicken; it was which Southern Classic had the best chicken. And it was a heated debate. We found only one way to resolve the question. Boxes of chicken were brought in from stores in Shreveport and Mansfield for a taste test. Who won? Everyone who was in the office that day.

Yes, we all have our own way to satisfy that unique itch that only Southern Classic can scratch. The best news is that soon we can share that with friends who live outside the Barksdale Bubble. Southern Classic expands more than waistlines Southern Classic was founded in 1989 by the Fanning family and continues to be operated by brothers Howard and Leon Fanning and their sons, Alan (Howard's son), Brandon and Alex (Leon's sons). Together they own 17 stores in northwest Louisiana, Alexandria and Pineville, Texas, and Arkansas.

As they looked to further expand their operations through franchising, they retained attorney Tom O'Keefe to help format and launch the growth plans. Even then, some of the family wasn't sure what would unfold.

"I wasn't sure we wanted to go ahead outside the family and franchise," Howard Fanning said. "After I met Tom, I realized what good background he has in business and his success in other franchises. He really struck me as someone I wanted to open up to. We've always been a really close family operation. He's the first person I ever felt I could open up to and let see our finances. I really enjoy working with him. He became a friend as well as a partner."

O'Keefe reviewed Fanning's concept and liked what he saw.

"When I come in, I assess several things," O'Keefe said. "First, there's the product. In this case, it's a fried chicken concept with a proven track record and a cult-like following. Then I look at the principals — how they conduct themselves, are they civicminded? This family is just terrific. I have to believe in the product and the people."

He said the unit-level economics for Southern Classic "tell a good story" that appeals to potential franchisees who would pay royalties to operate a store. And then there's the convenience factor.

"I like that part of it, especially in a post-COVID world," O'Keefe said. "There's a lot of opportunity for safe service of the product. The prototype is all drive-through and walk-up. I looked at everything and was drawn to it."

He liked it so much that he decided to get involved.

O'Keefe formed SCC Foods, LLC and plans to franchise restaurants in south Louisiana, including New Orleans.

And O'Keefe knows what he is up against. He once worked for Al Copeland Enterprises, which ran both Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen and Church's Chicken at the time. He also was associated with Ruth's Chris Steak House and Smoothie King.

He is confident Southern Classic stands tall against the competition.

"It's got a unique taste profile, with a proprietary blend of seasonings," O'Keefe said. "And the side items are terrific. It has a great price-tovalue relationship. I think it's supercompetitive in the environment."

Nick Binnings is one of O'Keefe's partners and serves as director of brand development. Like O'Keefe, he has years of experience in the industry, working with Another Broken Egg. He said he is excited to see the business grow.

"As members of the Southern Classic Chicken leadership team, we are thrilled to make the transition to becoming franchise partners," Binnings said when the news was announced. "We believe that working alongside our franchisees and having a close relationship with the brand's founding family has provided us with the right ingredients to enable our new locations to thrive."

Howard Fanning said that Southern Classic's local legacy will not only remain but will also continue to grow.

"Had I known it was going to be like this, I would have had five sons instead of one," he said of their success. "We finally ran out of children to help in the organization. The ones we have are excellent. Our sons and nephews do a great job. My daughter is active in the organization, too. We are going to continue what we have and expand some more. We have three already purchased locations we are going to build on while we expand this other way, too."

O'Keefe said Southern Classic's legacy creates a level playing field, even in the competition's backyard.

"People often ask, 'Why would you take on the bigger players?'" he said.

"Southern Classic been around for more than three decades. That's longer than some of the so-called competition. Southern Classic is new to franchising, not to the fried chicken business."


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