Money Chicken is the most recent addition to the proliferation of fast-casual chicken-centric restaurants in Cincinnati. We may, in fact, be edging toward critical mass. But luckily, the brainchild from the team behind Pleasantry OTR occupies its own space in the local Venn diagram of chicken, fast-casual and heat factor.
“It’s confirmation of demand, if you want to call it that,” says Daniel Souder, one of Money Chicken’s owners (along with Joanna Kirkendall and Evan Hartman). “People enjoy chicken; it’s familiar to a lot of people, but now it’s who separates themselves, who brings a product that is unique and flavorful, at a value.”
Separating Money Chicken from the easy assignation of “hot chicken” joint is their signature spice rub they employ on all of their chicken dishes, which include The Money Chicken sandwich, tenders and wings.
“(It has) a little bit of heat, a little bit of sweetness, but then there’s Szechuan peppercorns, so you get a little bit of a mouth-numbing characteristic to it,” Souder says.
It’s definitely a surprising feature. I stopped by the large, airy and minimalistic space on Seventh Street one afternoon to give it a go, and ordered the Money Chicken sandwich — you can select either the regular, full-size portion of chicken, which the very helpful cashier described as being larger than the bun (which I went with), or the small, which fits neatly in the bun — the fries (either regular size or basket) and a side of the cabbage slaw.
The sandwich is served with large, crisp pickle rounds (Souder says these are made in house, as is the brine in which they are pickled) and a dollop of mayo hiding underneath a sturdy potato bun. I found myself wishing for more of the spicy honey on the sandwich, and was grateful the cashier slipped me a cup of the good stuff on the side. It pleasantly enhanced all elements of the sandwich — spice factor, texture — and I recommend getting it every time. I also want to applaud the sturdy potato bun choice (from Klosterman) that didn’t disintegrate halfway through the meal.
The crisp cabbage slaw keeps the Asian inspiration train moving.
“We make the coleslaw to order, (so) it still has that crunchiness, as opposed to sitting,” Souder says.
It nixes mayonnaise and instead uses a springy, housemade miso vinaigrette with honey, salt and pepper so it has a “tangy umami” bite, Souder says. Crushed peanuts and chopped scallions round out the refreshing flavor equation.
Finding the sweet spot of pricing their fast-casual products was something that took the team a little bit of work; I’d heard from a few different sources that prices had previously been fairly higher, and noticed posts on Money Chicken’s Facebook page touting a tweaked menu.
“When we first opened, we priced our menu like we do any menu we’ve ever done and released that, and some feedback we were getting was it was more expensive than what (customers) are used to in the fast-casual setting,” Souder says. “So we had to readjust, reassess and take feedback, as we always do.”
They scaled back some pricing, offered some different sizing, and when I went in, I didn’t find myself appalled by the cost: $7.99 for the regular (larger) sandwich (the smaller is only $5.99, which is a comparative steal); $2.49 for the regular (smaller) fries; and $2.49 for the slaw.
“For better or worse, people have a set mindset for what a price (should be),” Souder says. “Even $11 for lunch, I don’t think is a lot of money, I think it’s just what they’re used to getting within a chicken sandwich (is different). Chicken varies in price from super-commodity Tyson chicken, to the chicken we get being four-times more than that.”
Their chicken comes from Joyce Farms in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and is hormone, steroid and antibiotic-free, and definitely tasted juicier than any fast-chicken I’ve had to date. Also available on the menu are two salads, a vegetarian sandwich and two kids’ meals.
Money Chicken just introduced a Lenten Friday fish sandwich, beer and wine is coming soon, and starting April 1, they’ll be inviting guest chefs to design a sandwich every quarter, with 10 percent of sale proceeds going to a charity of the chef’s choice; up first is Jose Salazar.
On the horizon are continued catering opportunities and pop-ups at local breweries, including West Side Brewing and Brink Brewing Co. in College Hill, and potentially at Over-the-Rhine bar Longfellow on a future Monday night and “hopefully” Fountain Square, Souder says.
Money Chicken is located at 300 E. Seventh St., Downtown. More info: moneychicken.co.