Southborough’s only drive-thru will soon serve a new kind of fast food: Nan’s Kitchen & Market, a Stow favorite for fried chicken and vegetable sides, will open its second location this summer in a former Wendy’s.
By the time the second Nan’s opens, the Route 9 restaurant will no longer look like the Frosty’s home; the team is renovating it to look like a “farm cabin” and even plans to add planters to grow herbs and kale. But the location aligns perfectly with Nan’s mission: to elevate fast-food fried chicken with wholesome, farm-fresh ingredients and side dishes, according to chef and co-founder Jordan Mackey.
In addition to the signature fried chicken, which coats poultry without antibiotics or hormones in a seasoned semolina crust, Nan’s does flank steak and salmon. There’s a daily range of sides, both traditional and non-traditional: butter and black peppercorn cookies are popular, and grains and vegetables come from all over New England to create side dishes like Maine Grains farro. blended with butternut squash and candied orange; organic kale in a lemon-horseradish vinaigrette with shavings of manchego; and slow-roasted chioggia beets drizzled with tomato-harissa vinaigrette.
Lunch features chicken sandwiches and other creative stacks, plus salads and cereal bowls; and breakfast options include biscuits and gravy, egg sandwiches, and to-go cups of overnight oats and yogurt parfaits.
It also has a coffee bar serving espresso drinks made from beans roasted in Massachusetts and sells sundries such as hot sauces, spice blends, and locally produced coffee beans. The Stow location sells craft beer and organic wines by the bottle, and Mackey will also pursue a retail liquor license for the Southborough location.
Nan’s partners with Boston Food Hub, a network of local farms that purchased a farm last year in Acton, to source farm-fresh produce for its menus. Stow’s original location is Nan’s headquarters, with raised beds on the 2 ½ acre property that they will use to teach employees about the value of farm-grown ingredients.
“We’re really following in the footsteps of companies like Sweetgreen and Dig Inn and B.Good,” which have proven that “fast food doesn’t have to be crappy food,” Mackey said.
The majority of quick service restaurants reaching the suburbs aren’t these more hip, health-conscious concepts. That doesn’t mean people who live outside of cities don’t want better fast-food options, Mackey said.
“Suburban food needs are really changing,” said Mackey, a longtime gourmet chef with experience in upscale hotels who also runs Sudbury’s Sobre Mesa taqueria. “Where we had tons of square footage and hosted people at tables [in our restaurants]now people need food on their own table much more often than they need it on mine.
It’s been the trend for years, even before the COVID-19 pandemic irrevocably changed restaurants.
“Say it [restaurant] the industry is in an existential crisis is an understatement,” Mackey said.
Overhead costs such as labor, insurance, real estate, and food have increased over the past 20 years, but the price of admissions hasn’t really increased. “I got the menus I saved in my scrapbook to prove it: We were charging $28 for a steak in 1997.” Serving dinner to the public used to be a good life, he said, but nowadays chefs have to have multiple restaurants to make those same margins — or provide options for every meal of the day, like Nan’s.
That’s why Mackey and his wife, Reanna, had come up with a business plan even before the pandemic hit.
“I met my wife down south and fried chicken has always been a part of life,” he said. “When we came back to New England, we always wanted to do a fried chicken concept where everything was good, not just the chicken.”
The Mackeys dusted off their business plan in May 2020 after the pandemic shuttered their full-service restaurant, 29 Rustic.
“It was just a strategy to keep staff working,” Mackey explained, but “it seemed to do a lot better.”
Nan’s has been so successful that expanding Southborough is just the start, Mackey said. The concept is replicable, he said, and the goal is to be “like a Boston market for Gen Z.”
The Southborough location, headed to 359 Turnpike Road, will offer a similar mix of made-to-order and take-out meals, as well as ready-to-cook platters for holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. The drive-thru — located just off the I-95 North exit lane — will be used for curbside pickup orders.
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