As businesses shut their doors and were forced to adapt to dine-in eating last year, a new Toronto restaurant found a goldmine of success with a twist on fried chicken. Rowdy Bird, a halal fried chicken shop that allows you to customize your flavour of chicken has opened multiple locations since the pandemic started in March 2020. The restaurant has been a lifelong goal for Yawar Siddiqui who spent twenty years in the restaurant business before taking the eventual plunge during the uncertain times.
“It's actually nerve-wracking a very, very scary thing to do,” said Siddiqui, co-founder of Rowdy Bird.
The family-run restaurant has two locations in Scarborough, Ont. and Ajax, Ont., launching during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Siddiqui opened the restaurant with his cousins, Ammar and Huzaifa Farooq after seeing the explosion within the fried chicken sandwich wars and wanted to offer a halal option, too.
With the operations, financials and social media on lock, Siddiqui wanted to ensure that Rowdy Bird embodied the diversity of Toronto. So, by creating his patented ‘Rowdy Rub’ he used chillies from Africa, India, Syria, Nepal, the Caribbean and more to ensure it was as authentic as possible.
“We’re inspired by the spirit of Toronto, by the multiculturalism and diversity of Toronto,” he said.
In Siddiqui’s case, he started working in a fried chicken restaurant at the age of fourteen, and it was always his goal to open up his restaurant. Even though the pandemic did present some challenges, it wasn’t enough to dissuade Siddiqui from powering ahead.
“I know how to keep the business running in the background, from quality recipes, and also from an operational and financial point of view what it takes,” he said.
By opening their doors in the second wave of COVID-19, Siddiqui knew he could not approach the business with the same old plan, and had to ensure that they had an internal online platform that was easy to navigate while also being on all the major food delivery apps.
We have to be very nimble and adaptable, we had to shift our business model by leveraging the online ordering system.Yawar Siddiqui, co-founder of Rowdy Bird
One of the ways they were able to adapt and shift their business was by reducing the operational costs and overhead that many restaurants take on. By focusing on smaller spaces and investing more in the kitchen than they dining area, they were able to save on costs, while also ensuring the focus remained on the food.
“We wanted to make our business as COVID-proof as possible. We limited our space for dining which reduced our lease, we reduced capital on furniture and other lighting fixtures,” he said.
While the pandemic has been a gut-punch for many businesses who have been forced to adapt on the fly, Rowdy Bird had the benefit of watching from the sidelines for over nine months, where they could learn best practices.
“We almost grew into the situation rather than being forced to adapt to it like a lot of the other restaurants did,” said Bushra Layeq, Marketing and Business Development Executive for Rowdy Bird.
Layeq, who works in a full-time marketing job while overseeing marketing at Rowdy Bird acknowledged it was important to ensure their brand was relatable online. From Layeq’s perspective, customer service is not only what you experience in-person, but online as well - whether that’s on the website or through social media. She noted that there is no real magic recipe to having success on social media, but said that they tried to be as authentic and genuine as possible. For Rowdy Bird, it’s been Instagram that has become a major driver for their so much that the restaurant employs a content creator, who Layeq added had made the brand come to life, while also making Rowdy feel like its made for Ontarians.
You come across delicious looking food on Instagram, you look at it, you read about it, you want to know where you get.Bushra Layeq, Rowdy Bird Marketing
The food is the most important thing to Siddiqui, who is an architect by trade, and through his worldly lens, wanted to ensure that Toronto had access to the best fried chicken from around the globe.
“Fried chicken restaurants usually have a limitation to them, there’s often just one flavour or two players...we are rebelling against the conventional fried chicken, we want to shake things up,” he said.
While opening a business during the pandemic may sound scary, the success of Rowdy Bird has Siddiqui thinking bigger.
“We are planning on opening up more locations, we are also looking at places where people can actually grab our food and go and also the drive-through model,” he said.