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Strategy Bojangles' could be careening towards disaster after an aggressive expansion push — and a trip to the chain reveals why (BOJA)

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Bojangles' — a fried-chicken chain based in North Carolina — is demanding to be judged among its top competitors in the US.

Bojangles' has an extremely devoted fan base in North Carolina. play

Bojangles' has an extremely devoted fan base in North Carolina.

(Hollis Johnson)

  • North Carolina-based chicken chain Bojangles' is having growing pains after a recent expansion push.
  • The company recently reported negative sales growth, and its CEO stepped down for personal reasons.
  • We visited the chicken chain, and we think the road to recovery is possible — but it'll take some work.

Regional cult-favorite Bojangles' plans to expand across America are apparently hitting some bumps along the way.

Last week, after a lackluster fourth-quarter earnings report, the company's stock went on a wild roller coaster ride, plummeting before rallying to its highest price this year. The chain's system-wide sales were down from the previous quarter, and year-over-year sales decreased more than 2%, according to QSR Magazine.

Plus, in a seemingly unrelated move, the company's CEO, Clifton Rutledge, stepped down for personal reasons on March 5.

While Bojangles' has some plans for a turnaround — including strategic closings, a new loyalty and payment app, lower prices, and plans to continue remodeling stores in a more modern format — when we visited the chain during a trip to Virginia last year, we found that the chain had a long road ahead of it.

Bojangles' has been making a major expansion push since its 2015 IPO. As a North Carolinian, Business Insider's Kate Taylor swore she had eaten higher-quality Bojangles' in the past. Perhaps Bojangles' expansion is actually the root of its problems — not the potential sales boost that the chain had hoped for.

It may enjoy fanatical devotion in its home base of North Carolina, but for the chain to make it outside of the Carolinas, some changes need to happen. Here's how our taste test in Charlottesville, Virginia, went:

Bojangles' beige buttress beckoned from the highway in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Bojangles' beige buttress beckoned from the highway in Charlottesville, Virginia. play

Bojangles' beige buttress beckoned from the highway in Charlottesville, Virginia.

(Hollis Johnson)


The taupe continued inside. The interior had a clean and sterile — yet vaguely homey — vibe, like an old-school New England Wendy's.

The taupe continued inside. The interior had a clean and sterile — yet vaguely homey — vibe, like an old-school New England Wendy's. play

The taupe continued inside. The interior had a clean and sterile — yet vaguely homey — vibe, like an old-school New England Wendy's.

(Hollis Johnson)


The ordering system sets Bojangles' apart from others: The cashier calls orders over a PA system to the kitchen, which springs into action.

The ordering system sets Bojangles' apart from others: The cashier calls orders over a PA system to the kitchen, which springs into action. play

The ordering system sets Bojangles' apart from others: The cashier calls orders over a PA system to the kitchen, which springs into action.

(Hollis Johnson)


The system works seamlessly. Our orders were ready in roughly three minutes.

The system works seamlessly. Our orders were ready in roughly three minutes. play

The system works seamlessly. Our orders were ready in roughly three minutes.

(Hollis Johnson)


We ordered quite the spread: chicken selects, a two-piece chicken dinner, a fried-chicken sandwich, a grilled-chicken sandwich, a Bo-Berry biscuit, a regular biscuit, and bowls of "dirty rice" and mac and cheese for sides.

play

(Hollis Johnson)


The Chicken Supremes, Bojangles' take on chicken tenders, come in a combo with a biscuit and a "fixin.'" The mac and cheese is a solid yet conservative take on the traditional side — nothing special, but certainly serviceable.

The Chicken Supremes, Bojangles' take on chicken tenders, come in a combo with a biscuit and a "fixin.'" The mac and cheese is a solid yet conservative take on the traditional side — nothing special, but certainly serviceable. play

The Chicken Supremes, Bojangles' take on chicken tenders, come in a combo with a biscuit and a "fixin.'" The mac and cheese is a solid yet conservative take on the traditional side — nothing special, but certainly serviceable.

(Hollis Johnson)


The Supremes look fairly appealing, but upon first bite, the luster is lost. While they're not horrible, they're drier, and they lack that crunch that one craves from a proper tender. The Cajun seasoning, however, is an uplifting redemption that makes these worth a try.

The Supremes look fairly appealing, but upon first bite, the luster is lost. While they're not horrible, they're drier, and they lack that crunch that one craves from a proper tender. The Cajun seasoning, however, is an uplifting redemption that makes these worth a try. play

The Supremes look fairly appealing, but upon first bite, the luster is lost. While they're not horrible, they're drier, and they lack that crunch that one craves from a proper tender. The Cajun seasoning, however, is an uplifting redemption that makes these worth a try.

(Hollis Johnson)


Winner, winner, chicken dinner? Maybe not. Where the Supremes are dry, the chicken on the bone certainly isn't. In fact, the grease can be a tad overwhelming for chicken that fails to distinguish itself in terms of flavor.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner? Maybe not. Where the Supremes are dry, the chicken on the bone certainly isn't. In fact, the grease can be a tad overwhelming for chicken that fails to distinguish itself in terms of flavor. play

Winner, winner, chicken dinner? Maybe not. Where the Supremes are dry, the chicken on the bone certainly isn't. In fact, the grease can be a tad overwhelming for chicken that fails to distinguish itself in terms of flavor.

(Hollis Johnson)


The dirty rice, on the other hand, is a surprisingly tasty side. Sausage adds a salty, savory punch of flavor to the seasoned rice. It's not something you can get at any fast-food chain, and Bojangles' is better for it.

The dirty rice, on the other hand, is a surprisingly tasty side. Sausage adds a salty, savory punch of flavor to the seasoned rice. It's not something you can get at any fast-food chain, and Bojangles' is better for it. play

The dirty rice, on the other hand, is a surprisingly tasty side. Sausage adds a salty, savory punch of flavor to the seasoned rice. It's not something you can get at any fast-food chain, and Bojangles' is better for it.

(Hollis Johnson)


If only the same could be said for the grilled-chicken sandwich. This mayo-laden mess is both dry and flavorless, with a bun that shirks its noble task of avoiding sogginess, and wimpy lettuce that retreats in the face of a mayonnaise onslaught.

If only the same could be said for the grilled-chicken sandwich. This mayo-laden mess is both dry and flavorless, with a bun that shirks its noble task of avoiding sogginess, and wimpy lettuce that retreats in the face of a mayonnaise onslaught. play

If only the same could be said for the grilled-chicken sandwich. This mayo-laden mess is both dry and flavorless, with a bun that shirks its noble task of avoiding sogginess, and wimpy lettuce that retreats in the face of a mayonnaise onslaught.

(Hollis Johnson)


The fried-chicken sandwich suffers from a similar mayo malaise. However, the Cajun seasoning manages to cling to life despite the dead weight of the goopy condiment.

The fried-chicken sandwich suffers from a similar mayo malaise. However, the Cajun seasoning manages to cling to life despite the dead weight of the goopy condiment. play

The fried-chicken sandwich suffers from a similar mayo malaise. However, the Cajun seasoning manages to cling to life despite the dead weight of the goopy condiment.

(Hollis Johnson)


Bojangles' signature sweet, the Bo-Berry biscuit, is adored by the chain's fans. Yet this adoration befuddles us. Biting in, Hollis immediately called his dentist to schedule a cleaning. The toaster-strudel-esque icing gave way to a sweetened biscuit dappled with suspiciously artificial-tasting blueberries. It's an icon, sure, but a problematic fave.

Bojangles' signature sweet, the Bo-Berry biscuit, is adored by the chain's fans. Yet this adoration befuddles us. Biting in, Hollis immediately called his dentist to schedule a cleaning. The toaster-strudel-esque icing gave way to a sweetened biscuit dappled with suspiciously artificial-tasting blueberries. It's an icon, sure, but a problematic fave. play

Bojangles' signature sweet, the Bo-Berry biscuit, is adored by the chain's fans. Yet this adoration befuddles us. Biting in, Hollis immediately called his dentist to schedule a cleaning. The toaster-strudel-esque icing gave way to a sweetened biscuit dappled with suspiciously artificial-tasting blueberries. It's an icon, sure, but a problematic fave.

(Hollis Johnson)


The saving grace is the simple, humble plain biscuit. Sweet, buttery, salty salvation. It's a utility player that doesn't put on airs or ask for much but delivers every time.

The saving grace is the simple, humble plain biscuit. Sweet, buttery, salty salvation. It's a utility player that doesn't put on airs or ask for much but delivers every time. play

The saving grace is the simple, humble plain biscuit. Sweet, buttery, salty salvation. It's a utility player that doesn't put on airs or ask for much but delivers every time.

(Hollis Johnson)


Nowhere is the biscuit's power more apparent than the breakfast menu, which is available all day and is, in many ways, Bojangles' shining star. Items such as the Cajun filet biscuit blow other chicken options out of the water.

Nowhere is the biscuit's power more apparent than the breakfast menu, which is available all day and is, in many ways, Bojangles' shining star. Items such as the Cajun filet biscuit blow other chicken options out of the water. play

Nowhere is the biscuit's power more apparent than the breakfast menu, which is available all day and is, in many ways, Bojangles' shining star. Items such as the Cajun filet biscuit blow other chicken options out of the water.

(Hollis Johnson)


Bojangles' is also known for its extraordinarily sugary sweet tea. Something else caught our eye, however: Patio red cherry soda.

Bojangles' is also known for its extraordinarily sugary sweet tea. Something else caught our eye, however: Patio red cherry soda. play

Bojangles' is also known for its extraordinarily sugary sweet tea. Something else caught our eye, however: Patio red cherry soda.

(Hollis Johnson)

Fun fact: In high school, Kate's chemistry class took a field trip to Bojangles' to learn about supersaturation of liquids — using the chain's sweet tea.



Patio has been essentially discontinued since the late '70s, yet a small number of Bojangles' restaurants continue to stock the startlingly red soda. It tastes like the most fake cherry flavoring one can imagine, and it's glorious.

Patio has been essentially discontinued since the late '70s, yet a small number of Bojangles' restaurants continue to stock the startlingly red soda. It tastes like the most fake cherry flavoring one can imagine, and it's glorious. play

Patio has been essentially discontinued since the late '70s, yet a small number of Bojangles' restaurants continue to stock the startlingly red soda. It tastes like the most fake cherry flavoring one can imagine, and it's glorious.

(Hollis Johnson)


Bojangles' is well-loved, and for good reason. But it at times falls short of expectation. We can see why people love the biscuit and celebrate the chicken's Cajun seasoning — but in 2018, the chicken competition is stiff. The chain's breakfast menu would compel these judges to visit over a trip to Popeyes, but on a comparison of chicken, the larger chain still reigns supreme.

Bojangles' is well-loved, and for good reason. But it at times falls short of expectation. We can see why people love the biscuit and celebrate the chicken's Cajun seasoning — but in 2018, the chicken competition is stiff. The chain's breakfast menu would compel these judges to visit over a trip to Popeyes, but on a comparison of chicken, the larger chain still reigns supreme. play

Bojangles' is well-loved, and for good reason. But it at times falls short of expectation. We can see why people love the biscuit and celebrate the chicken's Cajun seasoning — but in 2018, the chicken competition is stiff. The chain's breakfast menu would compel these judges to visit over a trip to Popeyes, but on a comparison of chicken, the larger chain still reigns supreme.

(Hollis Johnson)

For Bojangles' to succeed, it needs to zero in on the quality of the food. Clearly there's something to it that made it the darling of North Carolina — the chain has got to draw out that golden thread and spin it as it attempts to hold onto its expansion plans. Quality always wins over quantity in the fast-food game.



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