Where fried chicken sandwiches were last year’s fast-casual trend, here in Detroit it was the chicken itself that had a moment with spots like homegrown mini chain Atomic Chicken and Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken expanding their footprints. Now, another trusted Ann Arbor chef is laying the groundwork for a new fried chicken empire.
Chef Frank Fejeran — founder of the breakout hit Chamorro barbecue trailer, Ricewood — is putting the finishing touches on the first outpost of Ma Lou’s Fried Chicken in Ypsilanti. But, as the chef tells Eater, this likely won’t be the last location. Here is a primer to Ma Lou’s, debuting on February 24:
- Origins of Ma Lou’s: Fejeran is a big fan of fried chicken and has been laying the groundwork for a brick-and-mortar restaurant since departing from Ann Arbor’s Ravens Club in 2015. While he initially took a detour to open the Ricewood food truck (a smaller financial investment), the chef began testing out his fried chicken recipes at 327 Braun Court’s Sunday pop-ups under the name Dirty Bird Fried Chicken. Fejeran eventually settled on the space for Ma Lou’s after talking with a customer at Ricewood.
- About the name: Ma Lou’s is a tribute to Fejeran’s grandmother Louise, who was a lifelong fan of fried chicken. Coincidentally, Fejeran’s friend and business partner David Murabito also has a grandmother named Louise.
- On developing the restaurant: Fried chicken, and particularly hot chicken, are a tradition in Nashville, and Fejeran traveled to the city to research how different fried chicken restaurants operate. “My whole thing about cooking is you have to know what it is and you need to understand the culture,” he explains, adding that the visit “wasn’t really about the flavors or about the chicken — it was about the culture of it all.”
- About the location: Ma Lou’s is slated to fill the former Hidden Dragon restaurant space at 15 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsilanti. The 1,200-square-foot eatery will seat around 30 diners at a mixture of picnic tables and “probably the ugliest booths you’ve ever seen.” Outside of the booths, Fejeran and his team have put significant work into renovations, updating the floors, ceiling tiles, restrooms, and kitchen. The restaurant will feature a chalkboard wall and a walk-up counter.
- On the chicken: At its heart, Ma Lou’s is a straight-forward, no-frills fried chicken shop, but Fejeran hopes the attention to quality ingredients will shine through in the food. Diners can expect a traditional Southern-style fried chicken with an “airy batter, double-dipped and fried to-order.” The chicken goes into the fryer fresh, so diners should expect a little wait time — at least 12 minutes for an order. Diners can choose from original or a “spicy slather” available in two different levels of heat. Fejeran says there will be a sandwich on the menu and he may eventually introduce Korean fried wings.
- On the sides: Look out for a simple list of sides, including potato salad and baked beans. One standout item Ma Lou’s will offer is a “biscuit doughnut” — traditional biscuit dough, deep-fried and dipped in buttermilk-vanilla glaze.
- Prices will be reasonable: Fejeran estimates that the average ticket size will be around $8 for individual meals.
- On the service: Ma Lou’s will offer counter service inside as well as an online ordering system. The restaurant is also exploring the idea of curbside pickup.
- Ma Lou’s is designed for replication: While Ma Lou’s is launching next month, Fejeran says they’re already developing plans for expansion. The company plans to target at least five Midwestern cities including Ann Arbor (likely the next location), Chicago, Toledo, Grand Rapids, Royal Oak, and Detroit. “Obviously, it all comes down to making it work here first,” Fejeran says.
Ma Lou’s is located at 15 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsilanti. The restaurant will open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fejeran’s brother Gabe Golub will continue to run Ricewood and is extending the truck’s hours to Saturdays.
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