A chicken chain 'phoenix' rises from ashes with help of a 'patient' man and a whole American Indian nation

Dec. 7, 2016 | by S.A. Whitehead
A chicken chain 'phoenix' rises from ashes with help of a 'patient' man and a whole American Indian nation

This week, Beautiful Brands International signed an agreement with the Muscogee Creek Nation's Muscogee Nation Business Enterprise (MNBE) division to open as many as 500 Rex's Chicken restaurants in 35 states as lead Master Franchisee for the deal. The chicken chain's 40-year-story mirrors that of the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes with the help of one "patient investor" and a whole American Indian nation.

"The better chicken space is wide open, growing, and we believe fast casual is here to stay," said MNBE CEO Woody Anderson in a news release. "Add the proven 40-year history of Rex's Chicken resonating with our customers, potential franchisees, and you have a winning franchise model."

Three years ago, MNBE bought rights to expand Rex's Chicken in the eight major counties of the Muscogee Creek Nation tribal jurisdiction. At that time, the plans were to locate in travel plazas in that Oklahoma area. But, after a strategic planning period and many months of meetings between the groups, the chain's board moved to grow the relationship, according to a news release. 

Rex's CEO David Rutkauskas said it turned out to be a very good move. 

"We have 40 groups ready to sign up with our brand and dozens of franchise operators who are looking to get out of current under-performing saturated franchise systems," he said in a news release about the agreement.

MNBE CFO Vivian Pope echoed that enthusiasm, saying, "The response Woody and I received in Vegas during the Native American Business convention in March with our potential tribal partners was so encouraging."

The first of the new reincarnated 3,200-square-foot original Rex's Chicken 3.0 locations opens next April in Bixby, Oklahoma in a building shared with Jimmy's Egg on Memorial Drive. The refreshed take on the brand features drive-thrus and digital technology, along with what a press release describes only as "pioneering fast casual innovations."

Rex's has quite a story, from its original 1976 start in Oklahoma, which ultimately ended in the 1990's when the last original locations shuttered after all trademarks subsided. The chain was reborn when its current CEO, David Rutkauskas obtained rights to Rex's in 2008 — the height of the Lehman Brothers collapse and ensuing economic slump. It was a time when few were ready to take business risks. But Rutkauskas did and he said now it's clear he made the right move.

"Now, nine years later, we're so excited to be experiencing this incredible breakthrough and the opportunity to grow with the MNBE and their skilled leadership," Rutkauskas said. "It is gratifying to spend nine years focused on a singular goal, and see original Rex's Chicken grow into something we knew it could be. This is what I love about being a patient entrepreneur, never giving up, and following your heart. This clearly is the biggest deal of my 25 year career."

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Chicken, Financial News, Franchising & Growth

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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