Fast-casual chicken spot Slim Chickens to open on Smoky Hill Road

Restaurant aims for ‘Southern hospitality’ in east Centennial

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Byron and Kristen Wheeler have been in the restaurant business for years, amassing a large number of fast-food locations they run in the Denver metro area.

“It’s been part of our lives as long as we’ve known each other,” said Kristen Wheeler, 37. “It’s something that is a passion of ours and that we’re good at.”

The husband and wife team’s latest project: bringing a chicken restaurant that’s little known in the Denver area to east Centennial.

The Wheelers, who live in Castle Rock, met the founders of Slim Chickens and “fell in love with the brand and the heart behind it and wanted to bring it to Colorado,” Kristen Wheeler said. Slim Chickens opened in 2003 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

The upcoming location at East Smoky Hill Road and South Himalaya Street — expected to open in early November — marks the brand’s second Colorado location following the Wheelers’ first in north Aurora on Tower Road, which opened last year, according to a news release.

Asked what set the couple’s hearts on Slim Chickens, Kristen Wheeler said: “Oh, gosh, well the food is delicious, first of all. But we love the atmosphere of the restaurants, the Southern hospitality and really the family feel that Slim Chickens has.”

It’s a fast-casual restaurant — a term that means a server brings the food out to the customer rather than handing it off at the counter as in a fast-food joint — and it offers “100% all-natural chicken tenderloin, and the tenderloin is a very small part of the chicken,” Wheeler said.

The restaurant buttermilk marinates its chicken tenders, lightly hand-breads and fries them, she added.

The Wheelers, who run LOVE Restaurant Group, also plan to open a third Colorado location in Colorado Springs before the end of the year. Overall, the brand has opened 100 locations around the United States as well as international locations in Kuwait and London, according to the news release.

In their years in the business, the Wheelers have come to run 13 Burger King locations in the Denver metro area. The Centennial Slim Chickens location is a former Burger King, one of the Wheelers’ locations that closed about half a year ago.

Running fast-food restaurants taught Kristen Wheeler the “value of hard work and the value of people,” she said.

“Our whole philosophy in our company is to love our people,” Wheeler said, adding, “so that our team can extend that same love to the guests. Really learning the value of a strong team and loving them well.”

Food enthusiasts might also catch the Wheelers in their food truck that travels up and down the Denver metro area.

“We hit breweries and neighborhoods and local parks from Denver to Colorado Springs,” Wheeler said. She, her husband and their team all help operate the truck, which they started up about a year ago, she said. The truck is branded under the Slim Chickens name too.

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