MightyBird, a new, fast-casual crispy chicken restaurant, launched September 25 in Canada with the opening of a location in the Foodie Aisle at Toronto’s Union Station with the ambition of rolling out the concept across the country.
“We know there’s a fried chicken revolution happening, and people are loving this southern classic,” said Dan Kennedy, Partner at Open Concept Hospitality. “Our mission at MightyBird is to provide a chicken experience like no other, where flavour and quality take centre stage.”
“We couldn’t think of a better place to reach Torontonians, visitors, sports fans and concert goers than Union Station,” said George Heos, Co-Founder of Eat Up Canada. “Located in the Foodie Aisle on the lower retail level by the underground entrance to Scotiabank Arena, MightyBird offers elevated grab-and-go counter-service in Toronto’s busiest transportation hub.”
MightyBird’s chef-curated menu features signature chicken marinated in rich buttermilk and cooked to crispy, golden perfection. The menu is much more closely compared to what people would find in a sit-down restaurant environment. It’s more of a full-service restaurant versus a quick service one in terms of the offering but MightyBird is about convenience, speed and being reasonably priced.
“The launch of MightyBird at Union Station is just the beginning,” said Alex Gerzon, Co-Founder of Eat Up Canada. “Plans are underway to expand the MightyBird brand across Ontario, including a traditional fast-casual restaurant with an expanded menu opening in Burlington later this fall.”
It all started with the perfect crispy chicken sandwich
Open Concept Hospitality has been active since 2017 in the full-service, casual dining space with a number of restaurants in the Greater Toronto Area. The biggest and most successful concept has been Union Chicken. Other brands include Amano Italian Kitchen and Mikey’s Smash Burgers.
Kennedy said the company’s Union Chicken concept was the brainchild of several business partners who thought there was an opportunity for a premium rotisserie chicken concept to open in Union Station. A fried chicken sandwich was added to that menu. It was almost an afterthought at first and it quickly became its most popular item to the point where they started to build more and more menu items around it. The recipe was fine-tuned over the years.
“It’s really become the item that everybody knows us for,” said Kennedy. “We decided as a company that there was a real opportunity in fast casual dining for a great crispy chicken concept to be developed. Unfortunately, our background was in full-service casual dining and we didn’t really have any experience in franchising but I did know a couple of former colleagues who I had a lot of great admiration and respect for.”
A recipe for a perfect partnership
“George, Alex and I worked together at Boston Pizza. We stayed in touch over the years as our paths had gone in different directions. I reached out to them and asked for some advice on how we could build a scalable fast, casual brand based around our hero item that we felt we wanted to bring to the masses.”
“The more we spoke about it, the more we realized that rather than us trying to do this on our own (with a little consulting from Alex and George), that this could be a real opportunity for us to partner and bring together our operations and culinary expertise on the Open Concept Hospitality side with Alex and George’s depth of experience in franchising, in real estate, and developing great brands.”
The first location for MightyBird is a scaled down version of the concept because it’s going into an area called the Foodie Aisle at Union Station. It’s counter-service only with limited family-style seating. It will have a smaller menu, but it gives the concept an opportunity to introduce the brand to Toronto and beyond for the people who travel to the city.
The full-service Union Chicken location will remain at its current Union Station location. MightyBird has taken over the Union Chicken satellite location which was operating in the Foodie Aisle.
“We bring a certain skill set. We’re very good at developing concepts and building restaurants and taking franchising brands that have already been developed to the next level,” said Gerzon.
“Culinary is not our strength and that’s where Dan and his partners really came to the table with that area of expertise. So when you look at both groups together there’s some tremendous synergies there because of all the different skill sets involved. We’ve always loved Union Chicken as guests ourselves and always thought they had probably the best chicken sandwich out there,” added Gerzon.
A brand positioned to spread its wings
Heos said sometimes people forget that it’s about the food when they’re creating a brand.
“And we just loved the food,” he said. “We felt there was an opportunity to create a brand that was in tune with what people are looking for. Obviously the crispy chicken space has always been popular in the restaurant industry. Some people might say it is saturated or there are too many. We believe that there’s always room for a great concept that has great food and great service. That’s why we have created MightyBird.”
The trio believes there’s tremendous potential for the brand. They believe Canada represents an opportunity to build more than 150. The goal would be to open 10 to 15 restaurants a year.
Eat Up Canada: Bringing New Fast Casual Brands to Canada
Eat Up Canada was formed in 2021 by experienced restaurant developers Heos and Gerzon after the two sold their Firehouse Subs business after building it up to 50 restaurants in just six years. The goal at the time of Eat Up Canada was to build or develop new, exciting fast casual brands in Canada.
“Alex and I have been in partnership for a long, long time. In 2021, we started talking about developing our own brand, and shortly after created Bombay Frankies with celebrity Chef Vikram Vij,” said Heos.
The first Bombay Frankies restaurant opened last October in Newmarket, and the brand now has locations in Kanata and Ajax. Alex and George will be opening five to seven restaurants this year all in Ontario. The plan is to expand to other parts of the country, probably starting in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland in the next 12 months.
The second brand Eat Up Canada has is American-based Pokeworks, a leader in the premium poke segment. The company has a master franchise agreement to develop all of Canada. The first one opens in November and it will also serve as the brand’s training restaurant and located in the same building as Bombay Frankies in Etobicoke. Its second location will open in late-November in the massive mixed-use The Well development in downtown Toronto.
“Having three new exciting brands gives us opportunities that other companies wouldn’t have,” said Heos. “We secured three sites this year where we are opening multiple restaurants. Two are over 4,000 square feet and we’re putting in three concepts. Three very distinct concepts. It’s not a food court concept. We’re not sharing kitchens or washrooms or seating. The first location that we’re doing for MightyBird was a 4,500-square-foot gym in Burlington. We’re taking that location and dividing it into three units – MightyBird, Pokeworks and Bombay Frankies.”
“We’re able get great real estate deals done and offer franchisees an opportunity to grow. In the example of Burlington, one franchisee is doing both the Bombay Frankies and Pokeworks and in fact they wanted to do the MightyBird as well except that’s going to be our corporate training restaurant.”
“We think we represent a tremendous value to franchisees and a tremendous opportunity for landlords who have either now or will have a lot of vacancy in that kind of four, five, six thousand square foot range spaces to basically go to one company and lease the whole thing.”