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Party Fowl

Nashville's food scene is booming, and its hot chicken, found at places like Party Fowl, is sweeping the nation.

Party Fowl is one spot that truly celebrates the fun and flavors of Nashville, Tennessee. We chatted with Austin Smith, the restaurant’s co-owner, to find out what makes this joint rock.

If you had to describe Party Fowl in just a few words, what would they be?

Party Fowl is: Nashville Hot Chicken, Boozy Slushies (a selection of cooling cocktails made in the slushy machine), local brews and everything Nashville loves under one roof. There was no hot chicken joint that had live music; it was all fast-casual restaurants. I wanted much more than that. Party Fowl is a bar and a concert venue. It’s a restaurant for everybody.

Tell us a little about the Nashville “hot chicken” phenomenon.

We’ve had hot chicken in Nashville forever—it just took a while for the rest of the world to catch on. Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack and Bolton’s—those are the originals. But it wasn’t until 2012 that the hot chicken craze blew up. A place called Hattie B’s opened in midtown, and the press was unbelievable. Then Food Republic named 2015 “The Year of Hot Chicken,” and even The New York Times was writing about it. 

How has your business trajectory surprised you?

When we first opened in 2014, we thought this was a fun idea. We had no clue how big and how fast this would go. But we made some very smart decisions. I hired my operations manager, Tiffany Thompson, and executive chef, Bart Pickens, and they’ve been with me ever since. Some advice I would give to other owners: Do not skimp on your staff. Since we opened the doors, every single year our business has gone up. I have to give a shout-out to Nashville’s politicians for bringing in the people and the national conventions, not to mention tourism, because right now we are the It city, serving the It food.

What do you think makes diners come back again and again to Party Fowl?

To start, we have a family feeling here. I’m the owner, but I am very involved. And when we hire people, we are looking for fit, and we tell them, you are part of this family. That attitude comes through in our service and the way we approach our customers.

In addition to that, I would say people come back for our brunch, which The Food Network named the No. 1 brunch in Tennessee. Regular customers come back for our Boozy Slushies, and of course the creative things we do with hot chicken, from Hot Chicken Nachos to Hot Chicken Poutine. Then there are the Chicken Tenders, which are five-to-one our biggest sellers.

What are your favorite signature dishes on the menu?

We have a fairly notorious version of a Bloody Mary on the menu called Brunch for Two, a.k.a. The Dirty Bird. One morning I was a little hung over and I came into the restaurant and Chef Bart said, “You need a Bloody Mary.” And I said yes! “Want some fried chicken?” Yes! “Want some scotch eggs?” Yes! “Fried okra?” Yes! He thought I was joking until he saw the dead serious look in my eye. So, yes, we serve a Bloody Mary with fried chicken in it (actually two fried Cornish hens). You’re welcome, America!

How do you incorporate chicken on your menu throughout the day?

When it comes to breakfast, 99 percent of restaurants only do chicken and waffles. But I’ve got Chef Bart, and we play outside the box. We do a hot chicken stuffed French toast dipped in orange custard, and a savory pancake dish called Bird in a Blanket, rolled up like enchiladas filled with smoked chicken and topped with buttercream sauce. Rich and decadent. To integrate chicken into every meal, you just have to be creative.

What items do you typically source from Sysco?

Pretty much everything. I would say 75 to 80 percent of my products, down to the paper goods and the soaps, are from Sysco. That includes all our chicken, too. We want a better-quality bird for our guests: We like to use chicken that is natural and fresh—the birds are well treated. We need the birds to be the same size, and Sysco delivers that consistency. I’ve been a customer since the day I got my restaurant license. When we need something, our sales rep gets it done.

How has Sysco been integral to your success?

We make a lot of crazy requests. My chef is special in every way, and it takes a special company to keep him happy. It’s not just being an order taker—it’s being on your toes. That’s why we consider Sysco a partner, not a vendor.

We are opening a 13,000-square-foot building, and I’ve already got orders in with Sysco. My mobile fixtures, kitchen equipment, small wares, bar equipment, furniture, most of my food—I feel that Sysco is building my restaurant with me.