Secret sauce. It’s a claim nearly every fast food menu stakes as its own, but few reach the levels of viral success Raising Cane’s is enjoying.
Gen Z diners, TikTokers and YouTubers galore are flocking to Dubai’s newest fried chicken restaurant. Offering ample proof of the power of social media, online videos are the main reason why the restaurant in The Beach, JBR, has become an instant hit.
Here, The National tucks in in search of the venue’s recipe for success.
On the day I visit, searching for a table in the busy restaurant requires some manoeuvring of chairs around with the table next to mine, even as I see scores of other diners live-streaming their meals while dipping crispy chicken into cups filled with that aforementioned sauce.
Others are busy taking selfies with their orders, with huge burger-shaped chairs in the brightly lit “Caniac Corner” among the most popular places to snap. Many also congregate around the huge yellow Labrador statue in the middle, which is an ode to the founder’s dog the chicken shop is named after.
A basket of golden chicken fingers is soon in front of me. The smiling server waits confidently by the table as I dunk them into a small pool of pink sauce. Rich and creamy with a zesty and peppery flavour, it complements the crunchy chicken so well that it’s impossible not to immediately go back for more.
The sauce is sweeter than I expected, which may explain its moreish appeal. Superfans have been making their own versions – using a mixture of ketchup, mayonnaise, garlic powder, salt and lemon pepper – and posting their results online
While I’m not sure how close those come in taste, I can confirm the real thing is the real deal. Oh, and there are unlimited refills for the sauce, too.
Raising the cane
Founded in Louisiana in 1996, Raising Cane’s has expanded to more than 750 stores worldwide and has developed a cult following across the Middle East.
The chain is the brainchild of founder Todd Graves who, at the age of 24, dreamt of opening his own restaurant that served only chicken. His business plan for it received the lowest possible mark at university when the professor laughed off the idea.
Undeterred after graduating, Graves worked as a boilermaker at an oil refinery to fund his dream before renovating a dilapidated building at Louisiana State University, which would become his first establishment.
Having retained almost a 90 per cent stake in his business, Graves has amassed an estimated net worth of around $7.6 billion, placing him just outside the top 300 richest people in the world and making him the wealthiest Louisiana resident. Worldwide, Raising Cain’s sales reportedly topped $3 billion in the last fiscal year.
Raising Cane’s has proved a big hit with chicken lovers across the Middle East, opening venues in Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
Competition in the fried chicken space is fierce in the UAE with global brands setting up shop, such as Saudi Arabia’s AlBaik, Jollibee, which originates from the Philippines, and mammoth American chains KFC, Popeyes and Texas Chicken.
However, Raising Cane’s insists its menu is different enough to entice diners through the doors, thanks not only to its secret sauce, which only the management knows how to make, but also with its popular Texas Toast and a zero-calorie iced tea that is freshly brewed throughout the day with a custom blend of leaves.
It’s a slightly different story when it comes to the bestselling box combo, however, which has 1,230 calories. The meal consists of chicken fingers, French fries, special sauce, coleslaw and bread. Other top-selling menu items at the new Dubai venue have been the sandwich combo meal and tailgate platter – 25 pieces of chicken and tubs of sauce for groups.
The servers explain each chicken piece, which is sourced from the UAE, is hand-dipped and breaded by “bird specialists”, to ensure maximum taste. The tenders, meanwhile, are fried in canola oil and, unlike rival chicken restaurants, are not placed under heat lamps – which aren’t necessary as the chicken here is cooked only to order.
Raising Cane’s drinks also differ from traditional fast food chicken outlets. Along with the iced tea, the lemonade is made from real lemons, hand-cut and squeezed daily then mixed with pure cane sugar and water.