If you see a white hearse with a large chicken on the roof moving down the road, it’s a sign that Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken is coming to East Memphis.
Tripp Carter and Tom Mitchell, partners in Barnyard Chicken LLC dba Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, are building a 2,400-square-foot store from “scratch” at 730 S. Mendenhall.
Before they started construction however, they bought a white hearse with a chicken on top and “Chicken To Die For” written on the back panels. It also has a chicken clucking horn.
“It’s just something fun to have which will get people talking,” Carter says.
The East Memphis restaurant will be the fifth Gus’s store in the Memphis area. In the 1950s, the Bonner family opened the original location in Mason, Tenn. It sells franchises, which includes the secret recipe batter and cooking techniques.
Carter and his ex-wife, Wendy McCrory, negotiated the original franchise agreement with the family and opened the Gus’s Downtown in 2000.
“That store in Mason, Tenn., had a cult following where people would drive there from Memphis to eat the fried chicken,” Carter says. “We thought it would be a good idea to open one Downtown.”
The couple divorced and she retained the Downtown restaurant. McCrory also opened a Gus’s location in Collierville. Two different franchise operators opened locations in Bartlett and Southaven. The Southaven store has since closed.
In the meantime, Carter has been working as an investigator with Gatti, Keltner, Bienvenu & Montesi PLC.
“I’ve always loved the business and wanted to get back into it,” Carter says.
Carter has known Mitchell since high school and they have often talked about going into business together.
“A couple of times a year we would say, ‘When are we going to do something?’ ” Mitchell says. “We just came back around to Gus’s. It’s great chicken and it’s more of a local thing than a big chain.”
The restaurants have also enjoyed success from tourists, since it has regularly been featured in Food Channel and Travel Channel shows.
Carter and Mitchell are counting on East Memphis’ office workers to fill their lunch business. Similarly, a stable residential market and entertainment options like the Paradiso movie theater will help drive lunch.
“There has been a stable population there that hasn’t changed,” Mitchell says.
They also like the proximity to Poplar without some of the avenue’s hassles.
“Poplar is a lot more expensive,” Carter says. “We feel our location is real easy to get in and out of without having to fight that Poplar traffic.”
Chris Garland, a broker with Garland Co. Real Estate LLC, represented Barnyard Chicken in the lease negotiations.
“We kept noticing in that neighborhood at lunchtime, there were lines out the door in restaurants,” Garland says. “That is a reason why some restaurants in that area which are paying $10,000 to $15,000 a month in rent.”
Barnyard Chicken signed an initial 20-year land lease with Boyle Trust and Investment Co., which has almost 50 years remaining on a land lease with Gemignani Family Trust.
Barnyard Chicken has two options which run to the remainder of Boyle’s term.
The deal also required Boyle, represented by senior vice president Joel Fulmer, to subdivide a larger parcel.
Carter will be handling day-to-day operations. The restaurant will serve lunch and dinner seven days a week.
The two financed the $550,000 start-up cost themselves.
Cook Construction Co. and All Plumbing General Contractors are building the restaurant, which will seat 75 inside. The store will also have an outside deck to handle overflow and those who want to eat outside. The site has 19 parking spots, but some on-street parking as well.
Berry Jones, owner of S. Berry Jones Architects, designed the restaurant.
Barnyard Chicken will be using reclaimed and salvage items to build the store in order to give it a funky and historic feel. For example, they are using bricks from a recently torn-down building Downtown and reclaimed doors from a South Memphis grocery store.
The kitchen will be brand new, however, to help keep up with turning over tables as quickly as possible.
“That’s sometimes been a problem at some of the other locations because it’s so popular,” Carter says.