“My chicken tastes good” is the catchphrase at Cluck Chicken, which is in the process of moving from its home inside the Dive Inn (1380 South Broadway) into its own brick-and-mortar, just a few feet away. The line is borrowed from a Widespread Panic lyric rooted in the same Southern culture that the eatery's owner, Rachael Hebel, was raised on. In Auburn, Alabama, where Hebel grew up, there was a fried chicken shop on almost every corner. “It’s just one of those things you really crave,” she says. And when she moved to Denver in 2002 and couldn’t find the quality of fried chicken she'd eaten all her life, she knew she had something to share.
Cooking fried chicken is a family tradition, the Southerner says. She grew up watching her grandmother in the kitchen, where she fried chicken "in a cast-iron skillet, seasoned [with] flour in a brown bag — the old-school way.” It came out just right each and every time, Hebel continues.
But good fried chicken like that is hard to find outside the South, she adds. When she moved from Alabama to Colorado, she missed the comforts of home, and realized there was a culinary niche she could fill in Denver. It took ten years, but when she was laid off from a beer and wine distribution job, she turned the unforeseen hardship into an opportunity, enrolling in culinary school and then starting up a mobile kitchen called the Cluck Truck.
Hebel launched the Cluck Truck in 2012 and later upgraded by moving into the kitchen at the Dive Inn, 1380 South Broadway, in 2017. Cluck Chicken serves buttermilk fried chicken. Each piece is hand cut, hand trimmed and fried fresh for each customer. Every layer is seasoned: the meat, the buttermilk brine and the flour dredge. Consistency is key, Hebel explains, and she trains her staff with an attention to detail. “I’d rather eat the cost,” she says, “than have a customer walk out unsatisfied. It’s very important for the food to come out perfect.”
Hebel's menu of chicken fingers, wings and chicken sandwiches served with sides of fries and tots, homemade sauces and pickles, have been a hit with customers enjoying the pairing of savory comfort food with their drinks. So much so that Cluck “blew up and outgrew the kitchen,” Hebel says.
After three and a half years at the Dive Inn, the fried-chicken joint is moving next door to 1384 South Broadway, a space owned by Dive Inn proprietor Jason Tietjen. The new Cluck Chicken honors the relationships Hebel has built with the bar’s regulars and staff. Customers will still be able to purchase her food to eat at the bar, she says, but she's hoping neighbors with kids, especially, will feel more comfortable ordering from the new shop instead of having to wade through the bar.
Hebel and her team are finishing up renovation of the new space (which was previously a pho eatery and a waffle shop), and are looking to open in the coming weeks, when the Cluck Chicken menu will be available for takeout and delivery. While the meals will stay simple and hearty, with a solid dose of comfort, keep an eye out for a few new options.