Richard Blais is the chef behind The Crack Shack, a San Diego fried chicken phenom coming to Orange County later this year. (Photos courtesy The Crack Shack)
The Crack Shack pursues only the finest local ingredients for its playful menu. Sandwiches and salads range from $8 to $13, family-size portions of fried chicken are $15 (5 pieces) or $29 (10 pieces). (Courtesy The Crack Shack)
The Crack Shack’s Coop Deville sandwich. The $12.00 fried chicken sandwich comes with pickled Fresno chilies, lime mayo, Napa cabbage, on a brioche bun. The 5,580-square-foot restaurant is taking over a former Chase Bank located at 196 East 17th Street. (Courtesy Crack Shack)
The Crack Shack’s menu focuses on chicken and eggs. The deviled eggs are a popular side dish. (Courtesy Crack Shack)
The Crack Shack sells Chicken Oysters — a playful on New England oysters using the juicy morsels of backbone chicken meat. Cost: $9. (Courtesy The Crack Shack)
The Royale is one of The Crack Shack’s all-day breakfast items. The Royale is made with chicken sausage, an organic sunny side egg and smoked cheddar on a house-made English muffin. (Courtesy Crack Shack)
The Anti-Salad Power Bowl at The Crack Shack is one of a few “healthy” non fried chicken options on the menu. For $10, the bowl is topped with smoked chicken, a soft boiled egg, heritage grains, salsa, avocado, and arugula. (Courtesy Crack Shack)
Owners Mike Rosen and Chefs Richard Blais and Jon Sloan opened the first The Crack Shack in late 2015 in a metal shed next to their fine dining venue Juniper & Ivy. The fried chicken phenom is slated to open a restaurant in October 2017 in Costa Mesa. The restaurant, in a former Chase bank building, will be designed by San Diego-based Blue Motif.
The Crack Shack cooks with free range, non-GMO eggs and high-end organic ingredients. Mini biscuits are offered as a side. (Courtesy The Crack Shack)
The Senior Croque is often one of the most popular items on the menu in San Diego. It is made with crispy chicken, bacon, fried egg, cheddar, miso-maple butter and served on a brioche bun. (Courtesy Crack Shack)
The Crack Shack dipping sauces are: Baja Hot, Vadouvan Mustard , Cracksup, Buttermilk Ranch Kimchi BBG, and Sriracha 1000 Island. All our house-made except the Baja Hot. (Courtesy Crack Shack)
Richard Blais partnered with Mike Rosen to open Juniper & Ivy and The Crack Shack in San Diego. (Courtesy Crack Shack)
The Crack Shack’s side dish: Baja slaw. (Courtesy The Crack Shack)
The Crack Shack makes its own soft serve ice cream and toppings. Soft serve comes in a variety of flavors including S’mores, Mexican Hot Chocolate, Horchata, Dirty Chai and Chocolate Peppermint. (Courtesy Crack Shack)
Owners Mike Rosen and Chefs Richard Blais and Jon Sloan opened the first The Crack Shack in late 2015 in a metal shed next to their fine dining venue Juniper & Ivy. The fried chicken phenom is slated to open a restaurant in October 2017 in Costa Mesa. (Courtesy The Crack Shack)
The Crack Shack makes its own ice cream cookie sandwiches. Cookie, made in house, rotate among the following flavors: birthday cake, salted chocolate chip, blue cornmeal, cookies ‘n cream, and lemon coconut (Courtesy The Crack Shack)
The Crack Shack likes to use reclaimed materials. (Courtesy Crack Shack)
Costa Mesa Rendering: The restaurant is replacing an old Chase bank building on 17th Street, a culinary haven known for its indie restaurants. (Courtesy The Crack Shack)
Look out Raising Cane’s, Bruxie, Rooster Republic, Two Birds and Chick-fil-A.
Celebrity chef Richard Blais of “Top Chef” fame is bringing his poultry-centric eatery, The Crack Shack, to Costa Mesa. The San Diego fried chicken sensation is yet another quick-service brand catering to a growing consumer appetite for all things chicken.
“It’s a guilty pleasure,” said Mike Rosen, who along with Blais, co-founded The Crack Shack in San Diego in 2015.
The fried chicken eatery is replacing a vacant Chase bank building on East 17th Street, a culinary haven known for its chef-driven restaurants. Rosen said the neighborhood — home to indie concepts such as Sidecar Doughnuts, Mendocino Farms and Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop — is the perfect fit for the farm fresh chicken concept.
Crack Shack serves humanely raised poultry in an eco-friendly environment. It frys or grills Jidori chicken from Southern California and sources produce from local boutique farms.
“Everything is hyper local,” Rosen said in an exclusive interview with the Register.
From Finance to Fine Dining
When Rosen left a career in finance a few years ago, developing a fried chicken joint was not his goal.
The East Coast transplant grew up dining at some of the nicest restaurants in the Big Apple. His financial career brought him to San Diego several years ago, where he was co-principal and owner of The Rochester Funds.
While San Diego offers plenty of high-end restaurants and delicious dives, the food scene still didn’t live up to his New York standards.
“I really thought what we were missing was a fine dining restaurant that didn’t take itself too seriously,” he said.
Eventually, he burned out on bond trading. When he turned 50 a few years ago, Rosen’s oldest daughter challenged him to pursue his culinary dreams.
“She goaded me into this business,” he said.
He attended Le Cordon Bleu in London and soon after began looking for a partner to open a creative fine dining restaurant in San Diego.
He cold-called Blais, winner of “Top Chef: All Stars” and a frequent guest judge on Bravo’s award-winning competition show.
“Meeting Richard was serendipity,” he said.
Blais was living in Atlanta with his wife and two young children. He was ready for a change — and lured by the coastal climate and easy living of San Diego.
In March 2014, they opened Juniper & Ivy. They placed the modernist American restaurant in a century-old sawtooth warehouse on the outskirts of downtown’s Little Italy neighborhood.
It opened to critical praise and launched a rejuvenation of the soon-to-be-gentrified enclave.
From Shed to Chicken Shack
Soon after opening Juniper & Ivy, Rosen noticed a metal shed next to the restaurant attracting local photographers for wedding and fashion shoots.
As the edgy area erupted with activity, several would-be tenants approached him about converting the shack into a retail shop.
“Everyone had an idea of what the shed should be,” he said.
The business partners decided the open-air space would be perfect for a fast-casual restaurant.
With the better burger scene saturated, Rosen honed in on fried chicken.
“Every culture, Korean, Japanese, Persian — they have their own version of fried chicken. It’s a universal food,” he said.
He recalled during his travels “well dressed” executives eating fried chicken at airports.
But no one, he thought, was paying homage to the humble classic.
“Why not have chef-driven chicken and use the best ingredients possible?”
Soon after, The Crack Shack was born.
Like Juniper & Ivy, The Crack Shack pursues only the finest local ingredients for its playful menu. Sandwiches and salads range from $8 to $13, family-size trays of fried chicken are $15 (5 pieces) or $29 (10 pieces).
Side dishes include hot or cold chicken oysters (a riff on New England oysters using the juicy morsels of backbone meat), mini-buttery biscuits, deviled eggs and a hefty portion of french fries blanched and twice fried. An egg (fried or runny) can be found on nearly every dish, including the top selling Señor Croque, a brioche bun stuffed with crispy chicken, bacon, a fried egg, cheddar cheese and miso-maple butter.
The Crack Shack also serves salads, grilled chicken, a quinoa bowl, hummus and line-caught tuna.
The Crack Shack is entering Orange County at a time when fried chicken concepts are popping up in food halls and reimagined strip centers: Domestic sales for chicken joints have outpaced the venerable burger.
In 2015, fast-food chicken chains saw sales rise 8 percent, according to market research firm Technomic. By contrast, America’s top burger chains, saw sales grow by 3.3 percent.
Locally, restaurants are taking advantage.
Anaheim-based Bruxie recently scrapped its waffle sandwich focus to emphasize fried chicken plates. New food halls, McFadden Public Market in Santa Ana and TRADE in Irvine, both opened with fried chicken food stands — Rooster Republic and Two Birds.
With its local beer and craft cocktails, Rosen said The Crack Shack is attracting foodies of all ages — millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers. “There’s something about fried chicken that transcends traditional demographics.”
Having captured lightning in a bottle, Rosen opened a second Crack Shack in February in Encinitas. Costa Mesa will be its third outlet, and first outside of their San Diego home base.
The 5,500-square-foot restaurant will sport an interior of reclaimed corrugated metal and Torrey Pine wood. It is slated to open in October.
Rosen said more locations in Southern California are possible, but not mandatory.
He’s scouting Pasadena, downtown Los Angeles, and Santa Monica — affluent communities that won’t question paying $10 for a fine-dining inspired fried chicken meal.
That’s why East 17th Street, where crowds gather daily to devour Sidecar’s $3 doughnuts, seemed like the perfect fit.
Like others, Rosen has fallen victim to Sidecar’s addictive doughnuts.
“Every time we go, we end up having far too many. They’re ridiculous.”
The Crack Shack will be at 196 E. 17th St.
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