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Raising Cane’s CEO discusses coming to Tampa Bay and future locations

AJ Kumaran told the Tampa Bay Times the fast-food chicken franchise is looking to open five restaurants during its first year in the area.
A headshot of Raising Cane's co-CEO and COO AJ Kumaran and a chicken finger meal.
A headshot of Raising Cane's co-CEO and COO AJ Kumaran and a chicken finger meal. [ Courtesy of Raising Cane's ]
Published Jan. 26

Less than a month ago, the fast-food chicken franchise Raising Cane’s purchased a property on Clearwater’s Gulf to Bay Boulevard with plans to open a restaurant there by next year. But it’s not the only location Raising Cane’s has plans for in Tampa Bay, co-CEO AJ Kumaran told the Tampa Bay Times.

Related: Raising Cane’s is coming to Tampa Bay in 2023

Tampa, Clearwater, Brandon and Carrollwood are areas of interest going forward, Kumaran said. Potential sites Raising Cane’s is targeting are near Fowler Avenue and 51st Street by University of South Florida; Brandon Boulevard and Hilltop Road; East Bay Drive and Newport Road; and Dale Mabry Highway and Ehrlich Road.

In an interview with the Times, Kumaran explains why Raising Cane’s is focusing on Florida and what customers can expect once they open. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Why are you’re interested in Florida right now?

Florida is full of “Caniacs”. We have been getting a crazy amount of requests to open. So we’ve been looking at it for a bit. I also believe it’s a great market for us. A lot of people from our core markets — Texas, Louisiana and California — go to Florida. It’s a very transient market.

Where are you planning on opening next in the state?

We have roughly five locations in Tampa Bay we’re looking at, 10 in Orlando, and there’s 10 or so in Miami. All in all, there’s about 25 restaurants that are opening around Florida.

How does Tampa Bay fit into Raising Cane’s long-term plan?

We’ve been in business for 25 years, opened our first restaurant at Louisiana State University in 1996. Our vision is to grow restaurants and serve our customers, our “Caniacs”, from all over the world. Ultimately, we want to get everywhere. It is just a matter of time and where we go first. So when I look at Florida, the interest from customers is really solid. That made me prioritize that market. Miami is going to be the first restaurant.

Are you doing anything different for the Tampa Bay restaurants? Different designs or menu items?

The menu will be the same. We do one thing better than anybody else and that is chicken finger meals. That is not going to change. When it comes to design, every one of our restaurants is slightly different from the other ones. Even within the same city, we try to adapt to the local community and pull those design elements. We partner with the local high schools and colleges.

By the Clearwater location, there’s a Chick-fil-A across the street and Tampa-based PDQ, Church’s Chicken and KFC nearby. How does Raising Cane’s plan on competing in this crowded chicken coop?

We love and respect all of them. I will say though, nobody does chicken fingers better than us. So I don’t call them competition really. I just call them our chicken friends. I’m glad they’re in the space. They keeps us on our toes when it comes to chicken. But when it comes to chicken finger meals, they have a lot to learn from us.

What should locals who are unfamiliar with Raising Cane’s know about you?

At Raising Cane’s, we use fresh, never frozen, chicken and then we bread and fry them and serve it to our customers hot because we have zero heat lamps in our restaurants. We make it fresh to order every time. Our customers should think about us as this great chicken finger meal experience with a secret sauce that we’re known for.

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How long will it take to open the Clearwater location?

It is our early days in Florida. Our expectation is around early 2023. It could get a little bit ahead, depends on how quick the development moves. Just know that they may change a little bit.

Are there any difficulties right now trying to open up a restaurant in Florida during a pandemic?

It’s absolutely challenging. It is the most challenging times I’ve seen ever in this industry. The supply chain is about the worst it’s ever been. It’s tough to find product and materials we need. Staffing shortages are also the worse we’ve ever seen. It’s a very tough opening climate and we’re not immune to that. We are dealing with the same things that the rest of the world is dealing with, and frankly, Florida is just like everywhere else. It’s been a struggle.

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