Louisianians of the Year
Eight of Our Favorites Making This State Great
(page 4 of 8)
Founder, Chairman and CEO,
Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers
Restaurateur of the Year - Louisiana Restaurant Association
A Relentless Pursuit of Quality Chicken Bites
Conjure up a vision of Louisiana cuisine, and chances are crisp chunks of boneless chicken won’t be the first items that come to mind. No matter. The particular spin that Todd Graves put on this popular delicacy has not only made it a hit in Louisiana but has made the entrepreneur and his restaurant chain stars in a major segment of the nationwide fast-food market, as well.
It’s an odd outcome for a business plan that didn’t strictly adhere to traditional restaurant principles. For example, Graves devised an unimaginably simple menu – fingers of boneless chicken fried to a flavorful crisp and served with a variety of dipping sauces. French fries and coleslaw were the only sides on his original menu, and more than 16 years later the lineup has not changed.
Then there’s the restaurant’s name. For reasons not entirely clear, Graves named his eatery after his beloved golden retriever. But does a chicken restaurant named Raising Cane’s make sense? Again, it doesn’t matter.
“My ultimate goal is to someday have restaurant locations all over the world,” Graves says. And there’s no reason to think he’ll fall short.
Graves concocted his Raising Cane’s plan while pursuing a business degree at the University of Georgia, and while neither his business professors nor bankers from whom he sought a loan were fond of the idea, their lack of enthusiasm didn’t stop him.
“I just thought the idea of a boneless chicken product with great sauces and simple sides was a good concept,” he says. “I thought if I could do a chicken-finger meal and do it better than anyone else, then that’s what I’d be known for.”
Graves worked at several jobs to raise money for his first restaurant near the north gates of the LSU campus. His target was the student population, but people from surrounding neighborhoods and nearby businesses showed up, too. Soon Graves opened a second Raising Cane’s at the south edge of campus.
Since those early days, Graves has stuck to his motto: “Do one thing, do it better than anyone else, and be relentless about it.” Now operating 142 restaurants in 17 states, Raising Cane’s has won accolades from nearly every business publisher and restaurant industry magazine in the country. An honor Graves particularly values came from his home-state peers last year when the Louisiana Restaurant Association named him Restaurateur of the Year.
Graves’ largess and charitable work in the communities where Raising Cane’s operates have won the chain many other fans outside the restaurant industry, too. The CEO says it’s part of a simple business plan that calls for quality food, an excellent staff and a lot of community involvement.
It’s a formula that he sees no reason to alter – much like the restaurant’s menu, which hasn’t changed since 1996. “We haven’t even added a dessert,” Graves says with more than a hint of pride.