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How an NBA franchise pivoted to operating a chicken restaurant during the pandemic

Jack Baer
·Writer
·4 min read
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Scan through the website of Cream City Cluckery, Milwaukee’s newest downtown chicken restaurant, and you will see … the website of what looks like a high-quality chicken restaurant.

A menu, delivery app icons, delivery hours, a sign-up for a mailing list, mouthwatering videos of chicken being served. Typical stuff.

At the bottom is a pickup address, and it is there when a Milwaukee resident might realize this isn’t your standard chicken restaurant.

“PICKUP LOCATION:

400 W Highland Ave,

Milwaukee, WI 53203”

Wait, isn’t that right next to...

Fiserv Forum stands Thursday March 12, 2020, in Milwaukee. The NBA has suspended its season. The Milwaukee Bucks had been scheduled to play the Boston Celtics on Thursday night at the arena. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
The Milwaukee Bucks: NBA team and chicken restaurant operator. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Oh.

As it turns out, Cream City Cluckery is a ghost kitchen owned and operated by the Milwaukee Bucks, created in the wake of the pandemic that has kept fans out of Fiserv Forum since March. Running the restaurant is the team’s kitchen staff, typically at work in the arena this time of year. And according to Bucks vice president of hospitality Justin Green, the concept is doing quite well.

Well enough to stick around even when Bucks fans are attending games again.

Bucks’ restaurant came together in 30 days

Per Green, the idea came as reality set in that the pandemic was going to last for at least several months. Without millions in revenue from Bucks games and concerts, the team had to get creative. Once the organization decided to get moving on the food concept in June, progress was swift.

“From the day we decided to start to the day we launched it was 30 days,” Green said. “We built everything. We built the website, we built the brand, all of the logos, all of the recipes, everything.”

The decision to create a chicken restaurant came after a massive hole was identified in Milwaukee’s fast food landscape, a lack of nearly any chicken chains in the area surrounding the Fiserv Forum.

The closest Popeyes and KFC franchises are miles from the arena. Same with Church’s Chicken, and Raising Cane’s and Bojangles’ aren’t in Wisconsin at all. The only Chick-fil-A in town is inside the Fiserv Forum.

“We looked at what was in the city, we looked at what the competitors were, we looked for holes, we did the math and we saw there were no main competitors,” Green said. “You don’t have a Chick-fil-A, you don’t have a Raising Cane’s in this market. People love chicken tenders and there was a hole for that in the market. We jumped on it and it’s been unbelievable ever since.”

Cream City Cluckery could be permanent business

Rather than sell the chicken tenders typically served at Bucks games, Bucks head chef Kenneth Hardiman created a new recipe a little more worthy of standalone restaurant status. New chicken strips are cut daily, hand-breaded and beer-battered, the latter because this is Milwaukee.

The Bucks made a chicken restaurant in 30 days.
The Bucks made a chicken restaurant in 30 days. (Courtesy of the Milwaukee Bucks)

A chicken sandwich sells for $7 and comes with a side of tater tots, as does an order of three chicken tenders. Twenty tenders will set you back $25. Also on the menu is mac and cheese, biscuits and an “Ooey Gooey Butter Cake,” proceeds of which go to the Milwaukee Bucks Foundation.

Since opening on July 8, Green said business is strong enough that the team is looking into opening a brick-and-mortar location once the pandemic is under control. Some prospective investors from around the country have apparently even contacted the team about licensing, and other professional sports teams have been asking for details as they try to put their own kitchens to work. Being able to operate in the offseason would be a boon to any team wanting to retain employees in the typically seasonal industry of stadium concessions.

“This is something that we initially launched that we thought was going to be a way to help not lose great people,” Green said. “It ended up being something that is going to be a long-term concept for us and that we’re actually looking to grow.”

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