In 2017, chef Lydie Lovett came to Colorado from San Diego to buy a food truck, and she never left. At the time, she says, food trucks were very expensive in California, and she needed one to keep her Chicken Rebel pop-up business going. So she decided to seek one out in Colorado. The idea was to bring her fried chicken sandwiches to breweries around Denver until she made enough money to buy the truck and drive it back home.
But things went so well that Lovett stayed and opened Chicken Rebel in the Avanti restaurant incubator before moving it into its permanent home at 3618 Tejon Street in late 2019. On February 5, Lovett debuted a second location — with a drive-thru — in Westminster at 10448 Town Center Drive, and she's planning a third in a yet-to-be-determined location this summer.
At each Chicken Rebel, the menu includes an array of fried chicken sandwiches, hand-spun milkshakes, loaded tater tots topped with items such as Buffalo sauce, blue cheese, green chiles and more. There are also brunch food options such as chicken and waffles, a Nashville hot chicken breakfast burrito and crunchy French toast.
We chatted with Lovett to find out more about why she stayed in the Mile High City, the new location, and what her plans are for the future of Chicken Rebel.
After five years in and around Denver, what has made you want to expand Chicken Rebel?
Denver has been really welcoming. Originally the plan was to return to San Diego, where I started as a food stand, but we had such growth here, I decided it would be best to continue our expansion here in Denver. We still plan on opening a coop in San Diego down the road. I noticed a strong desire from our fan base to set up shop in communities outside of Denver that are wanting something different from the chain restaurants. We’re excited to be able to provide that and reach a new customer base.
Did you ever think you would go from bar food to food truck to multiple brick-and-mortar locations?
It was always my dream to open a restaurant, but I never imagined I would have two restaurants and a third coming this summer. The original menu only had three sandwiches and three loaded-tot options, and now we have over thirty options.
It was really beneficial to start small, as I was able to test out the market and see what works and also slowly build a following. I think a lot of restaurants make the mistake of growing too rapidly, and the quality really goes down. It’s important to me to be hands-on in every new location so I can ensure that quality, consistency and customer service are excellently executed.
What do you offer that other fried chicken places don’t?
Our fried chicken process is a perfect combination of science and love. The science is that we brine and sous vide our chicken to a tested and calculated recipe that took me ten years to develop. The love part is that we hand-batter each piece to order, and value the customer interaction component. We want each and every guest to feel like they are at home here. We want our staff to feel like they can be themselves. We don’t do uniforms.
Your new location has a drive-thru. Why did you decide to add that aspect?
The pandemic really changed our business model. We went from mostly dine-in to mostly to-go, and we’re lucky to be able to stay open and keep staff employed during a very difficult time for everybody. Our food travels well, and because of the sous vide process of par-cooking the chicken, we can ensure that it is prepared fast for drive-thru customers without having to put our product under a heat lamp for hours.
The space was originally designed to be a drive-thru by our landlord, so it was an easy transition into the space. The biggest challenge is telling people, “We don’t serve fries with that,” but “we do have some pretty tasty loaded tater tot options."
What about Colorado made you decide to keep Chicken Rebel here?
The people. Everyone has been super welcoming and supportive of my fried chicken sandwich dream. I feel like the little guy in a pretty competitive market, but I care a lot about what I do and the people who have helped me get here, and I hope that makes a big difference.