Southern fast-food chains are taking over the rest of America
Then, in 2015, their prayers for chicken sandwiches were answered, with the opening of the first stand-alone Manhattan Chick-fil-A restaurant. On Tuesday, the company announced plans to open its second Manhattan location.
Chick-fil-A isn't the only Southern chain gearing up for a Northern expansion.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based Krispy Kreme announced on Monday that it signed a development deal to open seven locations in New Hampshire and Maine in the coming years.
This isn't Krispy Kreme's first attempt to penetrate a region dominated by Dunkin' Donuts. In the early 2000s, the doughnut chain opened, then shuttered, seven New England locations.
However, Krispy Kreme is convinced that the times are changing up north, and that even New Englanders are now beginning to crave southern favorites.
"The demand for Krispy Kreme doughnuts and coffee continues to grow throughout New England, so we are very happy to bring this iconic brand to New Hampshire and Maine," Patricia Perry, Krispy Kreme's vice president, global franchise development, said in a statement.
Part of the reason why Krispy Kreme is prepared to expand is because the chain is shifting its own image to emphasize quality and grow its beverage sales. The company is remodeling a number of locations, drawing inspiration from a new, Starbucks-esque concept store the company opened in Clemmons, North Carolina last October.
Chick-fil-A similarly debuted a more upscale design when it expanded into New York, swapping white subway tiles for more wood and natural tones. Staying plugged into different regions' preferences has been key to Chick-fil-A's expansion, allowing the chain to make changes to keep up with the times.
Another Southern chain that should be taking notes on Chick-fil-A's success is Bojangles.
About 420 of the Charlotte, North Carolina-based chain's 657 locations are in North or South Carolina. However, the company, which went public last May, is eager to expand.
Bojangles estimates it has the potential to open more than 3,500 locations nationwide, most of them outside of states in the Southeast that already have a Bojangles presence.
Currently, Bojangles is expanding by moving into neighboring markets, opening its first West Virginia and third Kentucky locations in 2015. Eventually, the company plans to open hundreds of locations in the Northeast, as well as the Midwest, Texas, and California.
Why are these three Southern chains expanding now? Ironically, in an era of hyper-healthy food, traditional Southern fast food is having a moment in the spotlight.
When customers seek "healthy" meals, often what they're actually looking for is some combination of nutrition and authenticity. While fried chicken and donuts aren't low calorie by any means, all three chains have majorly emphasized their dedication to their heritage and traditional Southern recipes.
"You do not want [customers] saying, 'This is not the Krispy Kreme we grew up on,'" Krispy Kreme CEO Tony Thompson told Business Insider.
Another thing all three chains' have in common is their focus on breakfast, something that appeals to customers across the US.
In an ICR Conference presentation in January, Bojangles cited data that predicts the breakfast category will grow from $50 billion to a $60 billion daypart by 2019. McDonald's success with all-day-breakfast has proven that breakfast can be a major sales driver - something that benefits all three of these chains.
Fast-food chains like Chick-fil-A, Bojangles, and Krispy Kreme have been icons in the South for decades. However, as Americans across the country crave breakfast, quality food, and authenticity, it is finally time for Southern fast food to expand above the Mason-Dixon line.