Tracking food trends, the Aramark dining team at the University of Hartford saw data on chicken sandwiches being one of the most-sought after foods on college campuses today.
So, when the time came to introduce new pop-ups to drive traffic at locations with dipping revenue, The Coop pop-up concept was the first in the lineup, making its first appearance in February at a University of Hartford retail location.
“It started as a rotation for our Burger Studio location,” says Annie Whalen, Aramark district marketing manager for the Northeast Region of Higher Ed. “And we also rotated two other concepts with it, Melt (grilled cheese) and Diggity (hot dogs).”
In order to make the chicken sandwich concept successful, the culinary team paid attention to detail in each step of how the sandwiches are prepared, from bird to bun.
“The problem is, some places don’t do it right,” reads the quality-conscious mission statement posted on signage in front of The Coop pop-up. “The chicken we use is free of artificial colors, flavors and preservatives.”
The raw chicken is first soaked in buttermilk (a tenderizing agent that many fried chicken aficionados swear by), then hand-breaded to order with a blend of 12 different seasonings, one-upping the Colonel’s recipe. And the “breading” is actually made with gluten-free flour.
“This enables us to limit customizations when it comes to allergies and having to have a separate fryer,” says AmandaRae Sullivan, foodservice director with Aramark at Hartford.
From there, the fun begins with on-trend sandwich builds such as:
· The Southern Country Club: fried chicken with bacon, Swiss cheese, green leaf lettuce and honey Dijon aioli on a fresh-baked biscuit;
· The O.G. Clucker: fried chicken with shredded iceburg lettuce, tomatoes, housemade pickles and signature sauce on a seeded potato roll;
· The East Meets West: fried chicken with a fried egg, kimchi and maple-sambal sauce on a Belgian waffle; and
· The Where’s Buffalo Again? Fried chicken tossed with Buffalo sauce, blue cheese, shredded lettuce, tomatoes and celery slaw on a seeded potato roll.
The menu also offers the option to have it “your cluckin’ way,” with the choice of biscuit, potato roll or gluten-free roll and then free-range options for toppings from the traditional lettuce and tomato to the less-traditional truffle-Parmesan sauce. Boneless chicken wings, in eight- and four-piece are also available and fun fried chicken items are sold in the “lil’ sumpin’ sumpin’” section of the menu: housemade pickles, fresh-baked biscuits, celery slaw and fries.
Fast service was another important part of the concept, something facilitated by uniform cuts of chicken.
“A lot of trial and error went into creating the concept so that we are able to be successful in having fast service,” Sullivan says. “While every piece of chicken is hand-breaded to order, we figured out which cut of chicken we needed to use in order to have a delicious, fresh product for our guests. This way, we’re able to know exactly how long each piece of chicken should take from start to finish.”
The trend power of a handcrafted chicken sandwich has led to a 63 percent improvement in check averages at The Coop vs. the Burger Studio, according to Whalen. And measuring by “just the entrée” sales, The Coop comes out 34.75 percent ahead of the Burger Studio. Customer feedback has been glowing, and The Coop is set to roost for the foreseeable future as a pop-up star, at least twice per semester, Sullivan says.