The Fried Chicken Chain That Inspired The Creation Of Zaxby's

With a unique and simplistic menu composed of crispy chicken tenders, buttery Texas toast, and a famous yet elusive dipping sauce, Zaxby's was one of the first fast-food chains of its kind: a casual chicken tender restaurant. With an opening date in 1990, per Zaxby's website, the chain started because of a dream between two friends that sought to make a better-tasting chicken tender, per the Atlanta Business Chronicle. According to Scrape Hero, the dream seemed to have become a reality, as customers really seem to like the chain's chicken. Zaxby's now has almost 923 locations and counting, most of which are housed in its home state of Georgia or another one of the Southern states. And the chain keeps on growing with each passing year.

Zaxby's boasts a similar concept to other sister chains like Chick-fil-A or Raising Cane's (which opened in 1996 per its website), and it has done exceptionally well over the last 20 years. But before Zaxby's or any of the other restaurants became nationally known, there was already one only chicken tender restaurant in existence that inspired all the others. 

Some fast facts about Zaxby's

If you didn't know that Zaxby's took inspiration from another restaurant before setting down its roots, there are probably a lot more interesting things you never knew about the restaurant's history. Per Zaxby's, the chain was first known as Zax when the first location opened in 1990 in Statesboro, Georgia. Per the Atlanta Business Chronicle, founders Zach McLeory and Tony Townley were only able to start the business after scraping together $16,000 for the store's mortgage. According to Franchise Times, McLeory was an aspiring drummer at the time and had to sell his drum kit to be able to make the money. As he shared with the publication, "I gave up one set of drumsticks for another."

Years after the origins of Zaxby's, its special signature sauce remains extremely popular with customers. Well according to Zaxby's website, the ingredients of the Zax sauce remain a mystery to everyone — even the restaurant's executive chef. The only person that knows its contents is McLeory. According to the CEO, the idea for the restaurant was an easy concept to follow since chicken finger restaurants were virtually nonexistent at the time, via The Red and Black. That is, except for one.

The inspiration behind Zaxby's

According to QSR Magazine, we have a small Alabama-based chain to thank for the creation of some of our favorite fast-food joints. We wouldn't have beloved restaurants like Zaxby's and Raising Caine's without the original chicken chain known as Guthrie's. Guthrie's was the first ever restaurant to have a menu that exclusively sold chicken fingers — after it nixed burgers from its menu in 1982, per QSR. Originally opening its doors in 1955 in Haleyville, Alabama, the chain decided to go the chicken-fingers-only route after discovering the hot menu item accounted for over 60% of its sales. So later when Guthrie's opened up a second location in Auburn, the chicken options multiplied and the beef was thrown out. 

According to the chain's website, Guthrie's officially became the first exclusive chicken fingers-only restaurant in 1978 and still sells its own chicken tenders, fries, toast, and boxed meals, just like Zaxby's, today.