Shaquille O’Neal to open chicken restaurants in North Texas

Big Chicken, a fast-casual restaurant featuring the favorite dishes of basketball player Shaquille O’Neal and his famous friends, is set to make a big splash in Dallas and its suburbs starting in 2023.

No less than 56 Big Chicken restaurants are expected to open across Texas, in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin.

The news is particularly timely as O’Neal recently purchased a home in Collin County. So, is the northern suburbs of Dallas a priority for Big Chicken?

“I’d be amazed if Plano wasn’t in the cards,” CEO Josh Halpern said. He spent time researching Plano, Frisco, and Prosper, in addition to other areas of Texas. However, no lease has been signed as part of the 56-unit franchise agreement.

Shaquille O’Neal is buying a house in Collin County, real estate agent claims

Big Chicken started in 2018 in Las Vegas and saw almost no growth in the first year of the pandemic, which was common during such an uncertain time.

Halpern joined the company in May 2021, when Big Chicken had just two stores open and six on the way. A year later, Halpern plans to open more than 150 restaurants in the next five to six years.

“We don’t want to oversaturate a market, but we’re ready to make it as big as possible,” he says. And then he jokes. (Or does he?) “If Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos want to talk, we’re happy to talk.”

Fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and a very large cookie

About 90% of Big Chicken customers order fried chicken, says CEO Josh Halpern, but grilled chicken is also available. (Courtesy of Big Chicken)

The MDE — which is O’Neal’s nickname, Most Dominant Ever — is one of the most popular sandwiches, Halpern says. This is one of the simplest options: a fried chicken sandwich with Shaq sauce and pickles. Customers also tend to order a hot Nashville chicken sandwich called Uncle Jerome, named after O’Neal’s bodyguard. And those who are really hungry could order the Charles Barkley, a fried chicken sandwich filled with macaroni and cheese, crispy fried onions and roasted garlic barbecue aioli.

“It’s as big and over the top as Chuck,” Halpern says.

Sides include fries, sweet potato fries, and a macaroni and cheese inspired by the side dish of Lucille O’Neal, Shaq’s mother. It has a Cheez-It crust because the famous basketball player has a partnership with Kellogg’s.

The menu ends with “monster-sized milkshakes,” as Halpern describes them, as well as ice cream sandwiches, soft serve ice cream cones, and the Big Cookie, which is the circumference of a basketball.

It’s true: “It’s like a dozen cookies, turned into a mega-cookie, served on a pizza board,” O’Neal says in a video describing him. “It’s impossible to dunk, at least in a standard-sized glass. And I can soak everything.

Big Chicken Expansion in Dallas

It is not yet known how many of the 56 upcoming Big Chicken restaurants will land in Dallas-Fort Worth. It depends on the performance of the first restaurants in each region, explains the CEO.

Big Chicken, created in part by basketball player Shaquille O'Neal, plays on some of his...
Big Chicken, created in part by basketball player Shaquille O’Neal, plays to some of his catchphrases, like “Can you dig it?” The first Big Chickens are expected to open in Dallas-Fort Worth in 2023. (Courtesy of Big Chicken)

While the seven locations today are inside Carnival cruise ships or in tourist areas like the Moody Center in Austin, the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle and the Virgin Hotel in Las Vegas, the agreement with Texas will bring traditional restaurants franchised by Fazil Malik, Frank Malik and Noordin Jhaver.

Shaq is the draw, Halpern says, but he thinks Texas franchisees can make big strides in an already crowded fried chicken space.

“People come the first time because they want to experience Shaquille’s restaurant,” he says, “and they come back because we were built by two really great chefs.”

Of the Big Chickens currently open, one is in a ghost kitchen at a Walmart in Rochester, New York. Soon these ghost kitchens will be opening in Texas, starting with Plano.

Dallas taco shop owners to launch ghost kitchen inside Walmart in Plano

While some of the Big Chickens in Texas will be drive-throughs, Halpern says each piece of chicken is dropped into the fryer after ordering, so it’s not as fast a model as some other chains. He compares Big Chicken to Shake Shack – and Shake Shack soon opens a drive-thru in McKinney, making it one of the first in Texas.

If they can do it, “so can we,” says Halpern.

For more food news, follow Sarah Blaskovich on Twitter at @sblaskovich.

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