Wicked Chicken Business Story

One benefit of working in the San Francisco offices of SmartBiz Loans are catered employee lunches. On a recent Friday, the lunch was catered by a very special restaurant, Wicked Chicken.

Why is Wicked Chicken special to the SmartBiz team? The creative establishment isn’t just an amazing place for chicken wings, craft beer and sports watching on 14 television sets, they’re also a SmartBiz customer. Owner Matt McClean connected with SmartBiz when he was seeking low-cost funds to help fuel his business expansion. Here’s the story of his entrepreneurial journey.

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McClean was a student at Santa Clara University when he took a part-time job at the uniquely named “Cluck You University Chicken” right across from campus. He started out earning $4.25 an hour working as a prep cook and a delivery driver. Two years later, he graduated from college and began managing the popular restaurant full-time, learning about staffing, payroll, and more on the job.

McClean eventually took ownership rebranded the restaurant as Wicked Chicken after a customer suggested the name. Wicked Chicken in Santa Clara opened in September of 2011.

When asked if he always wanted to own his own business, he talks about his childhood.

“My dad worked as the president of a big company for a long time and was let go when I was younger,” he says. “I remember him being laid off and deciding that I wanted to do my own thing. It’s great that I can run a business to share my love of chicken wings and spicy sauces.”

McClean’s restaurant got off to a rough start. “The previous tenants in the space I was renting destroyed the place before I moved in. They ripped out the stove hood, took the labels off the electrical panels, and more. It was really trashed and ended up costing me a bunch of money to get going.”

To fund his new business and replace the stolen and damaged equipment, McClean borrowed money from his parents.

Once he got up and running, business was good. However, he got a little behind and needed extra funding to catch up. McClean says, “Before I found SmartBiz, I took out what I call a ‘mafia loan’. It cost a ridiculous amount of money and required daily payments. I didn’t want to go back to my parents, so I started looking for a loan with a better rate.”

Marcelo Andrade was the SmartBiz Relationship Manager who worked closely with McClean throughout the application process. He reports, "Matt was a breeze to work with: responsive and available for a quick question whenever something came up. His financials and paperwork were organized, and he understood his business inside and out, which made our work easy. Working with business owners like Matt is why we do this. It’s an incredible experience to play a small part in their journey and see their businesses succeed."

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McClean received a bank term loan for $75,000 from a SmartBiz bank partner.

“I dealt with two excellent people at SmartBiz,” McClean says. “Both Jimmy and Marcelo picked up phone right away and would always get back to me, which is rare. When I worked with other companies, I never had the same representative from the get-go through the end.”

The funds have already been put to good use to fuel growth.

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“We just refreshed the website so it functions better. It’s integrated with our POS, runs a lot faster and looks more professional,” McClean says.

“One of the biggest things has been upgrading our POS system. It offers a lot of features that help our bottom line. For example, customers can sign up for rewards – we had 133 people take advantage of that in the first month. I also partnered with Uber Eats and immediately brought in $11,000 in one month. From last March to this March I’ve had an 18% increase in profits.”

McClean added a new employee, giving him more time for paper work and to explore new items for the Wicked Chicken menu.

“I’m from Chicago originally and want to add an Italian beef sandwich. But you have to have the right beef and the right bread to be authentic. I won’t do it unless it’s perfect.” He also wants to increase Wicked Chicken’s catering efforts. “We don’t do a lot of catering. I’d like to invest more time and grow that area. We could do a better job and get bigger orders I’m sure.”

In addition to enhancements for his Santa Clara location, McClean took a big leap to help a colleague open a Wicked Chicken in Santa Clarita, near the wildly popular Magic Mountain theme park.

“It’s not a franchise situation but I do get a share of the profits. There’s lower rent and personnel costs so it’s already doing well.” McClean helped the store get ready to open during a few 17-hour days. “I was even up at 1 in the morning frying food. This is a representation of my store so of course I want it to be successful.”

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For McClean, one of the toughest parts of being a business owner is staffing. “Financially, it’s challenging when minimum wages go up. But finding the right people to work for me can be a big problem. A lot of the kids these days don’t want to work, they just want to be on their phone all day. I come in every day from 7 am – 4 pm. I’ve been hustling my whole life so it’s pretty frustrating.”

Speaking of hustle, McClean is considering franchising Wicked Chicken and would like to have 30 – 40 stores within 5 years.

When asked about the secret to his accomplishments so far, McClean says, “If you have a good product and make an effort, you can be successful. It’s karma. And I really love the Wicked Chicken food. I don’t think any other place compares.”

Do you have plans to be in Santa Clara or Santa Clarita? Are you feeling brave? If so, check out the challenge from the Wicked Chicken website and be sure to have a big glass of cold water nearby!

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