Diners flock to Metro Vancouver’s booming fried chicken scene

Consumer choice has come a long way from the days when KFC and Church’s were the only options.

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Having a Jollibee restaurant nearby, smelling of spices and fried chicken, brings back warm memories for Dalisay Reyes of her native Philippines.

“It reminds me of home,” she said as her two young children savored their happy, crispy chicken meals at Jollibee on Cambie Street.

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“It would be like seeing a Keg restaurant suddenly appear in the Philippines.”

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jollibeea Filipino chain, opened its fourth Metro Vancouver restaurant on Wednesday at 72 Avenue in Surrey, the 100th Jollibee in North America (and among more than 6,300 Jollibees worldwide).

“It’s a big milestone,” said Enrique Hernández, senior account executive at Jollibee. “There is a large Filipino population in Surrey and the King George Boulevard location was warmly received when it opened.

“Globally, Jollibee has a strong presence, comparable to that of McDonald’s.”

Employee Mildred Reyes displays a giant bucket of fried chicken at the opening of Jollibee on 72nd ave near 120th street in Surrey, BC, on January 24, 2024 (Staff photo by Arlen Redekop/Postmedia). Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

There was a time when options were limited when it came to fried chicken in Vancouver, and those options were mostly chain restaurants.

Today, there is a proliferation of independent fried chicken joints offering flavors from around the world, inspired by Southern fried karaage, Japanese karaage, Korean yangnyeom, and Filipino proben.

Places that make the best lists for fried chicken include places like Its There, Le Coq Frit and Chewie’s Chicken and Biscuits in Kitsilano, Los Angeles Chicken in Richmond, Downlow Chicken Hut on Commercial Drive, the Frying pan in the West End and Fried chicken in Chinatown, just a handful of the growing number of fried chicken establishments.

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“Before there were basically only two options, KFC and Church’s,” said Justin Tisdall, owner of Juke.

Juke opened its doors in 2016 after three years of planning, making it a granddaddy among independent fried chicken places in the Lower Mainland.

Their cuisine is gluten-free, which chef Bruan Satterford, who co-owns Juke with Tisdall, says makes the crust crispier and takeout orders travel better, as well as appealing to those who are gluten intolerant.

“We knew that being independent against two giant corporations would be a struggle,” Tisdall said. “But we also knew it was an untapped market.”

He compared it to pioneering fast-food spots of the past, like boutique pizzerias and tacorias, where after one or two opened a flood of like-minded restaurants emerged.

“And now we’re seeing that with fried chicken,” Tisdall said.

Juke even has a Valentine’s Day special, bouquets from the original gangster fried chicken: “Flowers are overdone, but fried chicken is forever.”

“I think Vancouver is a great city where people really want to support local businesses and restaurants,” Tisdall said.

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“So if you can offer a better product for the closest possible price and at a similar price, made with local ingredients, I think people really want to support it.”

At Chewie’s, owner Richard Chew arrives early to bake cookies and leaves late after the lights go out.

He is Italian-Chinese (no chicken). bye mein jokes, please), spices up its sauces with South Asian flavors and (a popular idea now but something as unheard of not long ago as a gluten-free restaurant) offers a popular Chicken Benedict brunch.

“You can’t get away with standing out in Vancouver if your service and product aren’t the best,” Chew said. “Before there was practically only KFC-style fried chicken and now you see seasoning techniques from dozens of countries.

“The options out there are incredible.”

Chef Liam Fay creates a Hot Momma Chicken Benny at Chewie’s Chicken and Biscuits in Vancouver, BC, January 25, 2024 (Staff photo by Arlen Redekop/Postmedia). Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

As they would say at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, the market reflects demand.

Tim Sedaassociate professor of marketing and behavioral sciences, lives on Commercial Drive and is a fan of Downlow Chicken Shack; he reminds her of the fried chicken he enjoyed when he lived in the deep south.

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“They’ve found a niche and no one else is doing it like that,” he said. “Finding a niche, differentiation, none of these (fried chicken outlets) are copycats. “Everyone is doing original things.”

Birds of a feather, so to speak, but grouped together independently of each other.

Richard (Chewie) Chew (left) and chef Liam Fay with Hot Momma Chicken Benny at Chewie’s Chicken and Biscuits in Vancouver. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

In Their There, Catherine Wong (Chef Cat, as she is known) fuses spices from her native Korea with a buttermilk marinade.

“I’d never heard people talk about just going out for Korean fried chicken until maybe the last five years,” he said. “I think when people think of Korean food, they think of barbecue.

“I think Vancouver is slow in a lot of ways when it comes to a lot of cuisines. Fried chicken places are popular, no doubt.

Part of Vancouver’s delay could be because it takes time for immigrants to settle, Juke’s Tisdall estimates.

There could be initial language problems, remittances sent home, problems getting sponsors.

“It takes time,” he said. “But now you can see that we have Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, southern Americans, a massive influence of different cultures. It is beginning to bloom and shine.

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“Living in Vancouver isn’t cheap, so people open restaurants with what they have and try to be as creative and different as possible.”

Hot Momma Chicken Benny at Chewie’s Chicken and Biscuits in Vancouver, BC, January 25, 2024 (Staff photo by Arlen Redekop/Postmedia) Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

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