More Bojangles’ coming to Columbus area, with Chipotle the next hot opening in city

Panda Express, Chicken Salad Chick, Erbert & Gerbert’s, Hibachi Express, Hardee’s and Church’s Chicken also part of the mix

tadams@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 27, 2013 

Bojangles’ is not fast food. It’s good food fast.

That’s how Cortney Hill Stallings describes the flavor of the restaurant brand she and her family are now bringing to the taste buds of Columbus-area restaurants.

“We’re just completely unique in our flavor profile, and I think that’s why people continuously come back,” the partner in Raleigh, N.C.-based 3HS Operations said Friday on the official opening day of the 74-seat Bojangles’ at 2883 Airport Thruway, fronting the Walmart Supercenter.

The fried-chicken and homestyle food specialty brand is among several new fast and casual food eateries crowding into the Columbus market heading into 2014.

They include a Panda Express and Chipotle Mexican Grill in a newly built strip center at Columbus Park Crossing, with Panda having opened a week ago, and Chipotle likely to be welcoming diners around the middle of January, said Wes Lewis, development director and broker with Adams Brokerage Co. in Columbus.

Not far away on Veterans Parkway, across from the Lowe’s home improvement store, Adams Brokerage has yet to break ground on a strip center that will include a Huey Luey’s, a Cheeseburger Bobby’s and a Newk’s Cafe, Lewis said.

“We’ll have a few vacancies still left,” he said of the brokerage’s property holdings. “We’re actually in negotiations with several tenants to finalize leases.”

Meanwhile, in the Gateway Road area of Columbus, near the Beaver Run subdivision, Columbus developer Ben Billings also has begun work on a small strip center that will include at least two eateries — an Erbert & Gerbert’s Sandwich Shop and a Hibachi Express. He’s hoping to have the center ready by April or May.

“It depends on the weather,” he said. “If we have a good dry winter, it will go a whole lot quicker. If we have one like when we were building Billings Crossing, and it rains every three days, it just really drags things out.”

Across U.S. Highway 80 from Billings’ Walmart Supercenter-anchored center, a second Chicken Salad Chick opened its doors nearly two weeks ago at Lakeside Village, joining a Hardee’s restaurant near the front of the commercial and apartment development.

And yet another Church’s Chicken appears headed for the intersection of Miller and Milgen roads, with Columbus building permits indicating the chain is shelling out $223,000 to construct the fast-food structure at 6001 Miller Road.

The Church’s Chicken corporate office could not be reached for a projected completion date. A LoopNet real-estate site notes the location at one point was home to a Goo Goo Car Wash.

As for Bojangles’, the Airport Thruway location that has followed last March’s debut of a store on Schomburg Road won’t be the last. 3HS Operations plans between seven and nine outlets in and around the Columbus market, said Stallings.

The site for the third has already been chosen, in fact, and it’s on Victory Drive between a now-vacant Kings Buffet restaurant and a Circle K convenience store. The location formerly was home to a used-vehicle lot.

“That one will be up in mid-April,” said Stallings, who confirmed the company also wants to open Bojangles’ outlets in Phenix City, LaGrange, Ga., and in the nearby Alabama cities of Auburn and Opelika.

Columbus and the surrounding area is all 3HS has on its plate for the time being, she said, which should give the franchisees and the communities time to digest the fresh-made food the brand is offering local residents.

Bojangles’ is very different, Stallings stressed, from other chicken-centered restaurant chains. Its menu includes fried chicken, biscuits, mashed potatoes, green beans, dirty rice, pinto beans and macaroni and cheese. The eateries open at 5 a.m. and serve breakfast all day. Wifi and big screen TVs are part of the amenities.

It’s a concept that Stallings said she grew up on in eastern North Carolina. She operates the company with sisters Kimberly Hill Hayden and Elizabeth Hill Hadley, along with their father, Robbie Hill Jr. So it’s food the family not only sells, but believes in and loves.

“Things don’t just show up in a bag and you dump them in a fryer,” she said. “Our chicken is never frozen. It’s all fresh kill. We don’t accept anything that has over a three-day kill date, and we don’t serve anything that has over a six-day kill date. So as soon as we get it, we serve it within two to three days. It has to be marinated for 72 hours. So you have to get it, marinate it and serve it.”

The same made-from-scratch process goes into the biscuits, dirty rice and other fixings, said Stallings, who praised downtown Columbus and its riverwalk from previous visits here. And she plans more trips to the city to keep an eye on the burgeoning Bojangles’ presence.

“I think once people eat it, they will become like me and get a little bit addicted to it,” she said of the food.

Each Bojangles’ store will employ between 40 to 45 people as they settle into their normal non-grand opening operation, she said.

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