400 Degrees, Nashville’s Oh-So Spicy Fried Chicken, Primed To Expand

Food & Drink

Aqui Hines opened her original 400 Degrees location in February, 2006, where its reputation for being one of Nashville’s spiciest fried chicken joints started to grow. 400 Degrees is located in the Bordeaux, North Nashville section, and seats 25 people.

Then, she opened her second 400 Degrees at the Nashville Airport, in March 2021, also company-owned, which seats nearly triple the number of the original at 71 people. Nashville Airport was a perfect location, she suggests because “You have millions of travelers and hot chicken is the staple of the city, and everyone wants to try it.”

Now she’s stepping up franchising efforts to add new locations to her two Nashville hot chicken eateries.

A popular Nashville hot fried chicken eatery, 400 Degrees, is looking to expand by franchising.

She opened her original location with a home equity loan and added $1000, with no other investors required.

She named her eatery 400 Degrees, not because of the temperature needed to prepare fried chicken, but based on the name of her favorite rap album by Juvenile.

Hines, who is 48-years-old, says that she always gravitated toward spicy food when she was a child. “I always enjoyed putting hot sauce on my food,” she acknowledges.

Different Levels of Spiciness

The chicken is prepared in different levels of spiciness, and called 100 Degrees, 200 Degrees and then 400 degrees, which Hines calls the “spiciest.” She describes the 100 degrees chicken as “spicy with a little kick,” the 200-degrees as “medium heat that will open your sinus cavity and your nose will run,” the 400-degree chicken as “it’s so hot; it’ll burn you twice.”

The 100-and-200-degree chicken are flavored with cayenne, and 400-degree is sprinkled with Habanero, the quintessence of spicy and tangy.

Hines describes her sauce as “slathered with my secret recipe of spices and seasoning.” And her target audience is very eclectic, ranging from “anyone who loves hot chicken, as young as 5 years old and up to 80 years old.”

For patrons who prefer their fried chicken without the zing, she makes it plain without spices, and “only with flavor,” she adds.

More Than Fried Chicken

But there’s more on the menu than spicy fried chicken and that includes: whiting fish, catfish, shrimp, pork chops, all fried, and sides such as baked beans, potato salad, cold slaw and fries.

Not Appealing to the Health-Conscious Eaters

Asked what someone who is on a diet or wants to eat nutritiously would order, she replies, quite candidly, that “there’s nothing on the menu for them. People don’t come to my restaurant for healthy food.”

Franchising Has Had Its Ups and Downs

She started thinking about franchising several years ago and decided to do it on her own, without hiring a franchise consultant. But there have been setbacks since after several years no one has signed on officially and several potential franchisees have backed out after showing initial interest. She’s learned that she need someone who has a background in restaurant operations with a proven track record. She’s in discussion with one Canadian franchisee, but the deal hasn’t been signed yet.

Off-premises sales predominate at 400 Degrees and now constitute about 80% of its revenue. Doordash is the third-person service that delivers its food. Because Nashville attracts a slew of tourists; in fact, they comprise about 60% of its customers.

Consumer reaction on Yelp to dining at 400 Degrees was predominantly positive. Grace from Los Angeles, a tourist in Nashville, wrote when she cut into her chicken, “this juice comes out and the chicken is so moist. The skin is extremely crispy as well. It is made fresh so you have to wait 20 to 30 minutes for it, but it’s so worth it.”

Chuck from California said 400 Degrees was located outside of town near an auto supply store but “It is the best hot chicken I have tasted, out of all the 95 places I‘ve been to.” But Sonya from San Jose was unimpressed and thought the chicken was “overly battered.”

Why is Nashville hot chicken so popular? “Because it’s comfort food, and everyone loves comfort food,” she replies.

Hines says that for franchising to work she needs to identify franchisees who are as passionate about her 400 Degrees chicken as she is. “If you’re passionate, everything else will follow,” she says.

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