Many Louisiana natives argue that Raising Cane’s is the epitome of a fast-food chicken chain, but Coloradans might be a little confused by the enthusiasm, since the company only landed here recently and there are only five outposts in the entire state.
Centennial residents in particular may wonder what the fuss is about. A branch just opened last fall at the corner of South Parker and East Arapahoe roads, complete with a ribbon-cutting by the Aurora Chamber of Commerce, the Regis Jesuit High School band playing loudly in the parking lot and customers (Southerners, no doubt) circling the drive-thru and lined up at the entrance at 8 a.m. Miles and Bernie, mascots for the Broncos and the Avalanche, respectively, ushered guests into the new restaurant, offering free chicken fingers for a year to one lucky customer.
Despite the early hour, there was no breakfast. Raising Cane's unapologetically offered those first customers, as it does now, a single menu entree, chicken fingers, available two ways: on a bun or in a box. The sides are minimal as well: crinkle-cut fries, coleslaw, dipping sauce and Texas toast. But perhaps that's the allure of Raising Cane’s: simplicity and freedom from choice — because this ain’t Burger King, and you ain't getting it your way.
But as a person who usually orders a main dish based on the sides that come with it, I was disappointed that my choices were so limited. There's only one dipping sauce other than ketchup: a pinkish-orange secret sauce called, in a stroke of marketing genius, "Cane’s sauce." The proprietary recipe is supposedly a blend of ingredients known only by Cane’s general managers, who mix up a fresh batch at each store every morning. While it was nice to have something to dunk my chicken fingers into besides ketchup, this sauce was mostly a tangy cup of blah. Where was my favorite ranch dressing, or even some barbecue sauce, honey-mustard or trendy chipotle mayo?
It's a ballsy move to offer only six total menu items (seven, if you count beverages), since the chicken competition all serves myriad main dishes and sides. Raising Cane’s maintains that its focus on simplicity translates to freshness and quality. The company's “One Love,” as the fingers are called on its website, are made with the chicken tenderloin, allegedly the most tender and moist part of the bird, and are hand-breaded and fried to order. Indeed, the fingers are fat, tender and dripping with juice when they arrive at your table. The satisfying crunch of the outer layer rivals the Colonel’s extra-crispy recipe without trapping nearly as much grease. And the white-meat poultry didn’t need to be immediately washed down with a beverage, as is often the case at Chick-Fil-A. The flavor and quality of the fingers removed some of my initial misgivings about the lack of variety and helped me understand why so many hard-core fans were traveling long distances across our state just for a little Cane's (outside of metro Denver, Fort Collins has the only other Colorado location).
The most surprising item, however, was not the Chicken fingers, but the unassuming slice of Texas toast tucked beneath the mass of under-salted fries in the “box” combo ($7.80). At first sight, it seemed the staff had just grabbed a random sesame-speckled hamburger bun (that looks nothing like toast) and thrown it on a griddle. A different story unfolds once you pull apart the rectangular roll with its fluffy, cotton-candy texture and steaming garlic-laden strands. The bun melts on your tongue — making it extremely easy to devour before you've even touched the chicken. It’s a shame Cane's doesn't make its chicken finger sandwich ($6.79) on the Texas toast as well.
Raising Cane's was founded by Todd Graves, who, according to company lore, took a job working ninety hours a week as a boilermaker to raise money after he was denied a bank loan because "a chicken finger restaurant would never work.” While renovating the space for his first restaurant, Graves found an old mural painted on a brick wall that inspired the red-and-white logo that’s painted on brick inside of all of his restaurants today.
Graves named his chicken finger eatery after his dog, Raising Cane, who kept him company throughout the renovation. That first yellow Labrador retriever has since passed, but the dog continues to be the company mascot, and Graves is now on Raising Cane number three.
Raising Cane’s sets itself apart from other chain eateries by becoming actively involved in the local community. The Centennial branch, for instance, has taken part in helping the Hope Starts Here Food Bank, the United States Bomb Tech Association, Rocky Mountain Dawgs Project, and Smoky Hill High School. The decor comprises memorabilia from nearby high schools as well as unique Centennial curios. As Lyndsey Patel, the regional director of marketing for Raising Cane’s, puts it, “No two Raising Cane’s restaurants are the same. Our restaurants’ design reflects Raising Cane’s history as well as the local culture of the community. We love finding unique graphics that tell a story of the community’s history or have an interesting tie-in.”
It’s because of these details, the simplicity of the menu and the integrity of the food that Raising Cane’s feels like more of a local fried chicken joint than another monotonous chain placed in the middle of suburbia.
Raising Cane’s Centennial location is at 6645 South Parker Road and is open Sunday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to midnight.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.