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A lot of restaurants serve chicken dishes. But until recently, there was no locally owned and operated establishment where the bird is the menu's superstar.

Enter Louie's Chicken Shack. Since the restaurant opened its doors on May 1, word has spread about its tasty, homemade chicken tenders and traditional Southern-style side dishes.

The restaurant, located on Route 66 between Arrowhead Avenue and Fourth Street, is the brainchild of business partners C.J. Hoyt, Zach Ellman, Eric Montijo and Chad Cook. Hoyt's brother, David, is the head cook.

Why chicken?

"We wanted to do something very original," said Hoyt, the restaurant's general manager and a graduate of Northern Arizona University's School of Hotel and Restaurant Management. He added that a chicken-focused restaurant filled a void in town. "All cultures like chicken."

"It's universal," added Montijo.

At Louie's, there's a lot of chicken to love. The boneless chicken tenders -- available in three-, five- and seven-tender combos -- are most often ordered, Montijo said. The Big Louie (a pulled barbecue chicken sandwich) and Big Fatty (shredded pork with original citrus barbecue sauce) are also popular picks.

Montijo summed up the offerings like this: "It's great food fast."

It's affordable, too. Combos start at $4.99, and are served with a choice of one side, Texas toast and a drink. The seven-tender combo, dubbed "The Grown Man Meal," priced at $9.99, comes with two sides, toast and a drink. So far, only two people have finished it all, Montijo said.

Wings come in barbecue, mild, hot or scorching varieties, with "scorching" easily the hottest wings in Flagstaff, Hoyt said. In fact, Louie's has a wing challenge: Finish 12 scorching wings in 20 minutes without using a napkin, eating any ranch dressing or sipping a beverage and you'll win a Louie's T-shirt and wings and get your picture on the restaurant's wall.

Side choices include beans, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, cole slaw and potato salad. Not one particular side has become customers' favorite, though.

"You always have all the sides being requested," Montijo said.

Hoyt has a favorite: Eileen's Red-Potato Salad is made from the Hoyts' grandma's recipe.

For health-conscious diners, there's a "Trying to Eat Right Combo": a grilled chicken sandwich topped with melted Swiss cheese and a light pesto mayo, served with a side salad and drink.

But the crew at Louie's readily admits to being all about the more decadent offerings.

"If somebody's on a diet, we hope to be their cheat day," Hoyt said.

Because everything is made fresh -- never frozen or reheated under heat lamps, it's definitely worth the splurge.

"We strive for perfection," Hoyt said.

With a limited marketing budget, Louie's Chicken Shack has relied on placing fliers on cars and putting an employee on the street in a chicken costume. Often, that employee is Hoyt, because he doesn't ask anyone else to do something he won't do.

"I want to be the lead dog in the pack," he said. "There are no employees, no bosses. We're all part of the team."

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In addition to the staff's hustle, Hoyt attributes the restaurant's success so far to word of mouth.

"Thank you to the customers that have passed on the word," he said. "They've helped us so much without even knowing it."

Word-of-mouth about the restaurant has been so good that even first-time customers come in with high expectations, Montijo said.

"We still manage to meet expectations -- or exceed them in many cases," he added.

That extends to the service. The owners are there almost all the time, getting to know customers by name.

"We try to make everyone feel welcome at all times," Montijo said.

To that end, there's an XBox 360 available and a wide variety of music comes from the dining room speakers.

Louie's plans to give back to the community in other ways, too.

"We really want to put our imprint on the community, just knowing Louie's Chicken Shack is doing right by the community," Hoyt said.

So far, Louie's has made donations to NAU, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Every Kid Counts. They've been a presence at the beer festival, Concerts in the Park and even fed evacuees from the recent wildfire who found themselves at the Red Cross shelter.

"We're just getting started," Hoyt said. "We look forward to being here a long time."


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