Business

Seeking Hot Chicken & Southern Soul Food?

Rocky’s Picks 57.

Asheville – After hustling and bustling around, do you need to relax with a plate of delicious comfort food in front of you? Just head to Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack at 1455 Patton Avenue in West Asheville or 3749 Sweeten Creek Road in South Asheville. At both locations you can sit comfortably sheltered in the covered patio with sanitized tables spaced the mandatory six feet apart or at a picnic table outside. You can relax and enjoy a plate filled with Nashville-style hot chicken spiced just the way you like it and delicious comfort food sides like collard greens, mashed sweet potatoes, and mac and cheese.

At Rocky’s, customers select their chicken’s heat on a scale that starts with plain, to mild, and then increases incrementally to extra hot. With so many customers choosing to preorder takeout via phone and email, often a line of waiting cars forms. Overall takeout has grown from approximately 20–25% of their business to 75% or even 85%. Thanks to their loyal customers and takeout, the Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack has managed to survive—with many changes, renovations, and teamwork from the staff—as pandemic mandates sadly closed the doors of so many other restaurants.  

Owners Lauren and Rich Cundiff have grown their restaurant business slowly. Both had worked at Whole Foods stores around the country, when Rich came to WNC in 2008 as COO of Earth Fare. They have built a close-knit team of employees who have contributed to the restaurants’ continued success even in these difficult times. The restaurant carefully maintains the highest levels of quality control. Zach Prenett, manager of the Arden location, monitors every detail. He said, “Only fresh ingredients are used for all the items on the menu except three. The okra, French fries, and pickle chips are frozen, but everything else is made from scratch.  That includes the dressings, the pot pies, and even the bone broth.”

Lauren & Rich at Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack. Photo Courtesy of Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack.
Lauren & Rich at Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack.

Lauren and Rich consider themselves “obsessed with food” and are intent on teamwork.  They ask their local suppliers to bring them well fed, large chickens, mostly seven pounds, when the average order elsewhere is for a three to four pound chicken. (This is certainly noticeable if you happen to order the chicken breast—it is enormous.)  Twice daily, the front and back staff must taste the food they are serving to ensure it is as expected. The highest taste standard must be met in every category. Staff agree that customer service is of the utmost importance. Lauren insists that the staff say “yes” to customer requests whenever possible.  They must always be respectful, polite, and helpful, even in difficult situations, like when sixty online orders come in at once, thus pushing out pick up times way out—much further than originally anticipated.  

The menu at Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack evolved carefully over time. Some years ago Rich Cundiff enjoyed the fried chicken at a small restaurant owned by Rocky Lindsley on Hendersonville Road which he frequented. After this restaurant closed, Rocky managed to convince Rich and Lauren to partner with him and open another Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack in West Asheville, where they would use his Nashville Hot Chicken recipe. Rocky, who sadly passed away this past March, stepped away eventually from the business to continue his active participation in music.

However, Lauren and Rich continued tweaking the menu to suit their diversified clientele. They learned the level of spiciness made a difference and that the ability to fine tune that level to suit a customer’s wishes was important. Then, some of the customers convinced them that their wives were not frequenting the restaurant, because they preferred not to eat fried foods. So Lauren and Rich added rotisserie and grilled chicken to the menu. In the early days, in order to find the best soul food with the best ingredients to put on their menu, they held recipe parties, from which came a slew of favorites, including a unique mac and cheese recipe; a recipe for crunchy fried green tomatoes, rolled in corn meal and topped with a peach pepper jelly and goat cheese; and many others too, such as mashed sweet potatoes with nuts and corn pudding. 

Now the Cundiffs are moving into a new territory. They have chosen a location in Greenville, South Carolina at 420 Laurens Road, where they restoring a dilapidated building to become another Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack. At first look, seeing that it was raining even inside the building, Lauren said, “No way.” But after a long discussion with the owner and a renovation plan, the Cundiffs bravely took the step. This restaurant will be a little larger than their Arden location by about a thousand square feet. “Being in another market but only about an hour away made sense. All of us can get to Greenville easily to help and do whatever is needed. The hiring process has already begun. The opening date is set at January 20, 2021,” said Rich Cundiff. “It’s pretty exciting.”

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, consider ordering ahead from Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack. They have daily specials and are open seven days a week but will be closed for Thanksgiving Day.

For more information, go to rockyshotchickenshack.com or call 828-676-3222 in Arden or 828-575-2260 in Asheville.