With multiple chains, including new local addition Raising Cane's, specializing in easily procured fried chicken, how does one compete? Go mobile. That's just what Project: Chicken has done launching a food truck with crispy poultry ranging from mild to completely clucking wild.
The truck is the brainchild of Aaron Wilson, no stranger to the local food scene. Back in the late 1990s he owned and operated a number of local Papa Murphy's franchises, which he sold two years ago. After dabbling in real estate and lending, he set his sights back on food, purchasing a former taco truck last August and fixing it up for its next stage.
"It's been a long and hard journey to get this truck running," he said.
After toying with a Latin American fusion concept, he settled on fried chicken, replacing the truck's flattop with a deep fryer.
"Chicken is a real simple protein to work with," he said. "There's not a lot of prep time to it."
Picking poultry also provided an edge over existing local trucks, he said.
"You can throw a dart and hit a taco truck here. We wanted something different. And Nashville hot chicken is the craze."
Wilson credits his friend Carlos Lozano, a foodie and avid home cook, for hitting on the hot trend.
"Without him, I wouldn't have done Nashville hot chicken."
Customers can choose from a number of sauces including barbecue, Buffalo, ranch, honey mustard, clucking hot sauce and sweet Georgia heat, which features habanero peppers.
It's our signature sauce," he said of the sauce developed with chef Pete Desjardins. "I can't tell you the recipe but I can say there are peaches in it and habanero."
"It's not a lot of heat. Just a little heat at the end."
The heat is definitely on with the clucking hot sauce, which Wilson said is "only for the insane."
"I’m sure there will be a lot of people who will come test it out. I'm going to try it one time but I'm going to have a gallon of milk next to me when I do it."
The chicken's heat level can also be adjusted to their liking, opting for plain (no heat), mild, hot or clucking hot.
As the name implies, chicken is the key to the menu, which offers tenders ($12 for two) and a chicken sandwich ($11) that, ordered "project style," is topped with liquid cheese.
"Project style, I stole that from In-N-Out because they do 'animal style,'" Wilson said. "We serve it on a Pyrenees hamburger bun, which is popular here."
The chicken stack ($9) is a simple fried breast; the DBL stack ($14) adds another breast to that order. Wings ($6 for six or $10 for a dozen) are offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays. All of the aforementioned dishes come with white bread, pickle and choice of coleslaw or french fries.
Chicken fries ($7) top cripsy potatoes with chunks of fried chicken. The same poultry pieces are featured in the chicken cone ($8), the truck's take on chicken and waffles served in a waffle cone and topped with cheese.
For dessert, Wilson said they are developing a dish consisting of a fried chicken breast served with vanilla ice cream and topped with spicy honey. He's also looking for a baker who can make McDonalds-style hot apple pies.
The truck opened late last week and has set in a number of locations including outside Conduent across from Memorial Hospital and in the burgeoning brewery district at Bakersfield Beer Co., Crusader Brewing and Great Change Brewing.
The business's website projectfoodtruck.com hints at another developing venture. Wilson has partnered with Emma Valdivia, who runs the pop-up Poke Express, and Lain Black, who owns the Fit & Grub food trailer, for Project: Street Eats. The plan is to be able to team up for events offering a selection of food options for local festivals and activities.
Their first outing is planned for April 12 at The Bridge Bible Church, 12225 Stockdale Highway, for the performance by Christian hip-hop artist Derek Minor and Canon on their It's Not a Game Tour. The eateries will also be joined by food truck So-Cal Tamal.