Joe Dodd probably knew he had a hit on his hands when he ran out of fried chicken on opening day. He definitely knew when his new restaurant King of the Coop sold 622 chicken tender platters on National Fried Chicken Day in early July. Or when he sold out of food on a random Thursday night.
“We’ve had lines out the door, wrapped around the building, down the street. It’s been wild,” Dodd says. “The community’s been amazing.”
The chef opened the Nashville hot chicken spot in mid-April in a tiny, unassuming Seminole Heights storefront he took over from the former Hey Giant! Little Biscuits owners. Thanks to word of mouth and a killer social media presence, King of the Coop has quickly become a foodie destination for its leg and tender platters, sandwiches like the King Mac (Nashville hot chicken tenders topped with King’s sauce, mac and cheese, pickles and coleslaw) and seasoned fries.
Dodd has been in the kitchen since he was a teenager. He opened a food truck after moving to Tampa in 2016, a concept that eventually became Soul Food Street Kitchen. Dodd and his team — including general manager Ryan Deitke, who now manages King of the Coop — were invited to operate a stall inside Armature Works’ Heights Public Market for four months last year. It was there that Dodd and Deitke began toying with the idea of a fried chicken restaurant.
Fried chicken is part of Dodd’s heritage. He says a family tradition of eating fried chicken every Christmas Eve began back in 1964 when his grandfather returned from the Vietnam War. Plus, “I’m a fat guy, and I love fried chicken,” he adds with a laugh.
Dodd first tried hot chicken at Beasley’s Chicken + Honey in Raleigh, North Carolina. He veered from his typical order of chicken and waffles to try the sandwich that was on special.
“It blew my face off. It was so hot but so delicious,” Dodd says. “I came back home and just started playing with the recipe, and that’s where it took [off]. I noticed that people really liked it here, and there was nobody doing it.”
“I realized that was our niche,” he adds.
Dodd had never actually been to Nashville until he and Deitke visited the city this summer on a research trip. After tasting a few versions of Nashville hot chicken, the two tweaked King of the Coop’s spice recipe to reflect the smokier flavor they found at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, widely believed to be the originator of the dish. Nashville hot chicken uses a paprika base, with cayenne pepper adding the heat and spice. Deitke and Dodd first dip their lightly battered, twice-fried chicken in a seasoned oil then add extra seasoning to give it the Nashville hot flavor — a taste they spent more than a year developing. Diners love to watch the preparation in King of the Coop’s open kitchen, Deitke says.
“They really get to see the process and learn about it,” he explains. “[We’re] not just bringing them Nashville hot chicken, [we’re] bringing them Nashville hot chicken and showing them, this is how it’s done.”
Many of the restaurant’s customers have first been introduced to King of the Coop via Instagram, where Tori Freshment posts drool-worthy photos of the King’s menu items alongside emoji-full, caps lock-laden captions that draw people in day after day.
“When I worked the line, I would get people who would come in and say, man, I didn’t want chicken today, but I saw that picture and had to come in,” Freshment says.
The traffic, coupled with the building’s adjacent retail space suddenly opening up in August, has led King of the Coop to begin expanding. By early fall, Dodd plans to have added more seating, new menu items (like breast quarters and brunch dishes), additional catering out of the new kitchen, and (long-requested) delivery on apps like Uber Eats and Postmates. The additional space will also house Deitke’s baked goods start-up, Pretty Baked, which will be available on Uber Eats.
Dodd is already thinking about the future of King of the Coop. He’s in talks to open a concept in South Carolina, but he also sees more King of the Coops locally. The sky’s the limit, he says.
“My friend asked me, this is a dream come true for you, isn’t it? I said, well, it will be,” Dodd says, chuckling. “We’ve done a lot of work getting to where we’re at now, knowing that we’ve got a lot more work to [get] where we want to go.”
“Yeah, we fry chicken, but we’re going to fry the best godd—-n chicken that you’ve ever had. And that’s what it is.”