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John Luckett started his fast food career as a teenager making burgers and running the grill at Wendy’s Little Rock on Cantrell Road about 38 years ago.

Gradually he progressed into leadership roles and met the right people who are now part of a partnership that operates Slim Chickens restaurants across the state. The Dixie Chicken team of owners – yes, they got the name from the song Little Feat – have embarked on an aggressive phase of Slim Chickens store expansion and plans to close their new location in Fort Smith tomorrow.

Last month a new restaurant opened in Cabot and the Dixie Chicken franchise team plans to open up to 15 locations over the next five years. The company is expected to pave the way for its next store – a specific undisclosed location despite being in central Arkansas – in January.

“We’re in growth mode, there’s no question about it,” Luckett says.

The Wendy’s location where Luckett started is only two blocks east of the Slim Chickens which he now co-owns and helps operate at Cantrell Road and North Mississippi Street, one of 22 locations. Slim Chickens in Arkansas, which includes locations in Northwest Arkansas that are owned and operated by the Slim Chickens corporate team.

Along with the Fort Smith Restaurant, Dixie Chicken partners will own and operate 12 stores with approximately 300 employees across the state. They didn’t just survive; they thrived during a pandemic that devastated the restaurant industry.

The franchise team is looking for potential locations in Arkadelphia, Conway, Greenbrier, Maumelle, Monticello, North Little Rock and Sherwood for expansion opportunities.

While other restaurant operators looked to the government for stimulus payments through initiatives such as the Paycheck Protection Program or the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, Dixie Chicken did not ask for federal help. .

Indeed, the partners embarked on a sort of mini hiring wave to bolster the workforce, believing that the pandemic would eventually subside and that having trained employees would be a valuable asset in supporting plans for recovery. growth. Profits were reduced, but the owner team knew that keeping employees on staff would pay dividends in the long run.

“We didn’t fire anyone during covid; we are committed to giving everyone their hours,” Luckett said of the strategy. “We knew it would be cyclical – our industry is cyclical anyway – and we knew things would happen eventually. We knew we would be better off if we didn’t fire anyone.”

Another reward for employee retention was unknown at the time – Arkansas’ labor pool would shrink as workers were supported by generous federal unemployment benefits and were apparently in no rush to find. a job. Hiring today is always a challenge as the business grows, but there is a solid foundation in place, Luckett notes.

“We think we are in a very strong position to continue to grow,” Luckett said. “We are looking for opportunities every day, whether it’s to buy locations or build from scratch.”

MAKE YOUR CHOICE

Thursday is set to be a busy day in central Arkansas with several events to help business leaders learn more about business efforts, rural economic development, and gather more information on business resources available for all the Arkansans.

There are several events to choose from that could help you grow and grow your business.

Let’s take a quick look:

• Little Rock Venture Center and FIS are hosting a demo day for the 10 emerging FinTech companies participating in the Sixth Fintech Accelerator Program which attracts entrepreneurs from around the world.

From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., accelerator participants will each have seven minutes to present their products and services to bankers and potential investors. The live streaming event is open to everyone and registration is available at venturecenter.co.

• The Better Business Bureau of Arkansas Educational Foundation is hosting its last lunch meeting of the month as part of a noon to 1 p.m. partnership with the US Small Business Administration.

Events throughout the month featured SBA resource partners who support the organization’s work with small businesses across the state.

Thursday’s event is free and will feature the business and commercial services division of the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office.

The office provides articles of incorporation and other information that must be filed by current businesses, new businesses, and nonprofits wishing to operate in the state.

Registration is available at https://www.bbb.org/local-bbb/bbb-serving-arkansas.

The SBA Partner Network offers free or low-cost training and advice to help small businesses succeed.

• SBA officials will be busy Thursday – the federal agency is hosting another non-stop event from noon to 1 p.m., this one featuring an online roundtable focusing on rural small businesses.

Business owners will share their stories of how they used SBA resources and US Department of Agriculture help to pivot and survive during the pandemic.

The session will also offer details on the resources provided by the two agencies to help entrepreneurs compete in the market, the financing opportunities available for small businesses, the advisory services that can be accessed for help and advice. guides to help start or develop rural businesses.

Panelists include Terri Billups, SBA Deputy Director and Senior Advisor for Rural Affairs, and U.S. Representative Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. of Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District in the Central and Southwestern part of the State. The congressman has served on the House appropriations committee since 2003 and is chairman of the appropriations subcommittee for agriculture, rural development, the Food and Drug Administration and related agencies.

For more information or to register, visit sba.gov.

• Isabella Guzman, senior SBA official, will lead a streaming event to recognize women entrepreneurs and celebrate National Women’s Equality Day. Guzman was in northwest Arkansas on August 13 to tout the agency’s efforts to support small businesses battling the economic destruction caused by the pandemic.

She will be joined from noon to 1 p.m. by Natalie Cofield, deputy administrator of the SBA Women’s Business Ownership Office, to promote the resources the agency provides to women small business owners to keep operating and remain profitable in the pandemic economy.

More information and registration are available at sba.gov/women.

Ideas for columns or recommendations? Any thoughts or reflections to pursue? Contact me at [email protected] or at (501) 378-3567.

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