It's all happening. The best fried chicken and doughnuts in the country are no longer confined to Philadelphia. Congratulations, America, you're getting more Federal Donuts.
Philadelphia's beloved fried-chicken-and-doughnuts-and-coffee chainlet was founded in 2011 by acclaimed chef and 2014 Eater Chef of the Year Michael Solomonov with his Zahav restaurant partner Steve Cook, local coffee shop owners Tom Henneman and Bobby Logue, and Philly food maven Felicia D'Ambrosio. The brand (often referred to as to FedNuts) opened to epic lines and now boasts five locations in Philadelphia. Fried chicken and doughnuts were a rare combination in the first years of this decade, but diners can now find similar chicken and doughnut shops across the country.
Federal Donuts' owners have been teasing more locations for years. Back in 2014, Cook told Philadelphia Business Journal that he was looking at "cities that are drivable [to] Philadelphia" for potential new locations. So it was truly surprising when Eater learned earlier this week that the first two locations outside Philadelphia would be opening in the far-flung cities of Nashville and Miami. The FedNuts crew has opened the floodgates and is in full expansion mode. Here's what you need to know:
So It's Just Fried Chicken and Doughnuts?
And coffee, yes. But it's also so much more.
"It's something different, but it's basic," Henneman told Eater last year. "It's three comforts under one roof." Guests can order fried chicken, which comes topped with a choice of several glazes or dry seasonings. It's double-fried like Korean fried chicken, with shatteringly crisp skin. The shop serves only cake doughnuts, nearly all made from a batter that incorporates baharat, a Middle Eastern blend of aromatics, typically including allspice and clove. A standard order of chicken comes with a honey doughnut. "I loved vacillating between zingy bites of crackly bird and a hot doughnut," wrote Eater restaurant editor Bill Addison in a 2015 review. Think more chicken and biscuits, less chicken and waffles, which is a composed entree. "The honey doughnut is a great alternative to a biscuit," Solomonov has said.
As of September, FedNuts' cultishly adored fried chicken sandwich — more of a seasonal item in years past — is now a permanent menu item, as well. Per Eater Philly, the dish is "a boneless version of FedNuts' double-fried chicken served on a Martin's potato roll with buttermilk ranch seasoning, spicy sauce, American cheese, and pickles." It's inspired lines, too.
In Philadelphia, the group maintains quality by charging chef Matt Fein with overseeing the commissary kitchen (located at the Northern Liberties outpost), where he manages all doughnut batter-making plus all chicken prep for the four other stores. As Addison wrote last year: "If Solomonov, Cook, and their partners can maintain the quality and consistency, FedNuts outposts should exist in every corner of the cosmos."
Where Else Are They Expanding?
While Michael Solomonov just recently opened a branch of his Philadelphia hummus shop Dizengoff in New York City, so far Federal Donuts has looked south. (It's as yet unknown whether the commissary in Philadelphia will be supporting these locations or whether a new commissary/commissaries will be needed. When reached by Eater, the Federal Donuts team declined to comment for this story.)
While nothing else has been confirmed, it wouldn't be surprising for Federal Donuts to pop up in New York City, DC, Boston, or any other major east coast city close to home base. Back in that same 2014 Philadelphia Business Journal interview, Cook summed up the expansion goals this way: "Federal has been a successful financial model for us. Another reason to grow it, ultimately, [is] to be successful, financially, in a meaningful way. The way to maximize that is to have more stores." Now that the expansion phase has started, anything is possible.
Really, anything. Is this expansion push funded by some food-obsessed VC millionaire? Is there a partnership announcement being drafted right this very second between Solomonov and some big chain? It's already at a baseball stadium, WILL THERE BE FEDNUTS AT AIRPORTS NOW??? We just don't know yet.
What Does It All Mean?
About a year ago, Eater laid out the reasons why it was time for a fast-casual fried chicken explosion. Many of these reasons still hold true:
1) The race is on to open the next Shake Shack. Chefs want scalable concepts that might some day make them rich and also extend their culinary reach to markets and customers otherwise untapped. Having multiple locations of a successful fast-casual concept is how that works. Bonus: with minimum wages rising, streamlined counter-service operations like Federal Donuts become more appealing to operators facing already perilous margins in big cities.
2) Chicken is cheaper than beef. Looking at current Consumer Price Index data, which measures the average change in prices for consumer goods over time, the price for ground chuck is significantly higher than it was 10 years ago. The price for whole chickens, meanwhile, has gone up by a few cents in the same time.
3) There's a gap in the market. Very few cities have restaurants that fill demand for fast fried chicken beyond what's offered by the space's fast-food giants like KFC, Popeyes, and Chick-fil-A. A restaurant like Federal Donuts, with serious culinary chops, can appeal to lovers of chicken and convenience who also care about the provenance of the chicken they eat.