When Stacy Brown opened her first restaurant in 2008 in Auburn, Alabama, her homemade chicken sold out in a couple of hours.
So she doubled the batch on day two.
“The surreal moment was the second day, when we saw all of the same faces but everybody brought a friend,” she said. “The second day we sold out in two hours again.
“Very quickly the business grew. It was on fire … The floor was like the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. It was madness. It was chaos.”
About 550 people at the Renaissance Tulsa Hotel and Convention Center heard Thursday how Brown parlayed that popularity into a national brand, Chicken Salad Chick, which has more than 120 restaurants in 14 states, including venues in Tulsa, Broken Arrow and Edmond.
She was keynote luncheon speaker at the sixth-annual Tulsa Small Business Summit.
A program of the Tulsa Regional Chamber, the Tulsa Small Business Connection hosted the half-day summit, which included topical breakout sessions and the annual small business awards presentation. Lisa Riley, owner of Pinot’s Palette Northeastern Oklahoma Studios, was recognized as Small Business Person of the Year, and six other local companies were honored.
“Small businesses are integral to our regional economy, creating two out of every three jobs,” Mike Neal, president and CEO of the Tulsa Regional Chamber, said in a statement. “It’s an honor to recognize these local business owners for their significant economic impact.”
The Tulsa Small Business Connection’s mission is to educate, empower and expand small business in northeast Oklahoma, which it accomplishes through year-round events and resources for small business owners and their employees.
“The Connection provides business owners with the knowledge, network and resources to be successful,” Colleen Almeida Smith, executive director of the Tulsa Small Business Connection, said in a statement. “Our goal is to bring business owners and entrepreneurs together to learn from one another and strengthen our regional business community.”
The event also featured morning keynote speaker Shelley Brander, founder and CEO of Tulsa-based Loops Productions.
“The summit is the only event of its kind in our region,” Angela Byers, CEO and founder of Byers Creative and chair of the Tulsa Small Business Connection, said in a statement. “Northeast Oklahoma is home to so many outstanding small businesses, and this event provides the opportunity to learn and grow from people who have overcome the same challenges your business may be facing.”
Chicken Salad Chick ranked 37th on the most recent Inc. 5000 “Fastest-Growing Companies in America” list. A graduate of Auburn University, she won 2014 Restaurateur of the Year in Alabama, and in 2016 was awarded Entrepreneur of the Year from Auburn University.
Chicken Salad Chick co-founder Kevin Brown, Stacy’s husband, died of colon cancer at age 38 in 2015. Before his death, the company partnered with a private equity firm that allowed the brand to reach the next level of success, she said.
“Life happens to all of us,” she said. “It does not go according to plan. But let it in and reflect on it and let it make you a better person. Don’t let it paralyze. You have to keep moving forward.
“… Throughout my journey, people whom I adore and love and people that thought they had my best interests at heart, they said, ‘Stacy, you need to face reality’ or ‘That isn’t possible’ or ‘This isn’t going to work.’ My response is, ‘Thank you for that. Now get out of the way.'”