Where Raising Cane’s goes, huge crowds follow, and the much-buzzed-about fast-food chicken-finger chain is headed to Philadelphia this week for the first of a series of restaurants in the region.
Raising Cane’s will open May 12 at 3925 Walnut St. in University City at the Radian building, one of 100 to 110 new locations expected to open in 10 U.S. markets in 2022. Fourteen are scheduled for Pennsylvania, and three for New Jersey. Sales this year are projected at $3 billion from what will be about 700 units.
The company, founded in 1996 in Baton Rouge, La., by entrepreneur Todd Graves and an early partner, calls its adherents Cainiacs.
Here’s what you need to know.
The menu is short and sweet
Raising Cane’s only sells never-frozen, hand-breaded, cooked-to-order chicken fingers (on sesame-seeded buns if you want a sandwich), crinkle-cut fries, Texas toast, coleslaw, Cane’s sauce, and fountain drinks. No burgers, no tacos, no salads, no shakes, no fish, no grilled items. Not even a “spicy” option. The menu has not varied.
Todd Graves, 50, was a freshman telecommunications major at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge when he signed on as the kitchen steward at his frat house. That was his entree to the food world. It was the early 1990s and boneless chicken was popping up on menus. In his senior year, he and classmate Craig Silvey set out to open a chicken-finger restaurant at LSU that would be a late-night hangout. They wrote a business plan, which got shot down by Graves’ business professor. Banks rejected it, too.
Graves and Silvey needed $100,000 to $150,000. They took high-paying but dangerous jobs to raise it. (Graves worked as a boilermaker at a ship-making company in Los Angeles, and both men worked on sockeye salmon fishing boats in Naknek, Alaska.)
They came back to Louisiana, found a location (a former bike shop), picked up the remainder of the seed money in loans from friends and the Small Business Administration, and opened the first restaurant in August 1996. Graves was 24. He bought out Silvey in 1999. Most of the locations are company-owned, not franchises.
They initially wanted to call it Sockeye’s after the foray into fishing. Graves changed course and settled on Raising Cane, his yellow Lab. The dog (1992-1998) also became the company mascot. After Raising Cane II (1999-2016), there is now Raising Cane III, born in 2017.
Each location has brick walls and peppy rock and roll. The Raising Cane’s logo is shown in an effect that makes it look partly hidden behind a wall — reminiscent of a wall at an early location that was exposed during demolition. Each has disco balls, also a nod to the original location, where Graves had installed them to mask skylights. They’re full of Elvis portraits and local sports and entertainment memorabilia. “One love,” the company motto, is everywhere.
Cane’s sauce, made daily on-premises, turns up on best-of lists. What’s in it? It’s not a traditional Russian or Thousand Island dressing. It’s also not a Cajun spice bomb, despite Cane’s Louisiana roots. The company won’t list the ingredients. On the web, speculators point to a combo of mayo, ketchup, ground pepper, garlic powder, salt, and Worcestershire sauce.
The chain managed to keep most locations open during the pandemic. It also partners with schools and organizations and is looking for some in Philadelphia. Raising Cane’s was one of three restaurant brands named to Forbes’ “Best Employers For New Grads” Top 100 list, and the company made Glassdoor’s list of “100 Best Places to Work in the U.S.” in 2021.
Raising Cane’s says it has 14 locations up for Pennsylvania. One at Pennsylvania State University (228 E. College Ave., State College) is planned for June. Next will be Temple University (1717 N. 12th St.) this summer, followed by locations in Fairless Hills (640 Commerce Blvd.) and Trevose (3617 Horizon Blvd.).