Raising Cane’s Todd Graves knows his business is more chicken fingers, exclusive interview

Raising Cane's Todd Graves with Dustin Lynch at the Nashville Flagship restaurant
Raising Cane's Todd Graves with Dustin Lynch at the Nashville Flagship restaurant / Raising Cane's

Early on Wednesday morning, fans lined Nashville’s Broadway to be one of the first guests of Raising Cane’s newest flagship restaurants. Even though chicken fingers and toast might not necessarily be the most typical breakfast meal, Caniacs appreciate that those iconic menu items are just a taste of what it means to be a Raising Cane’s fanatic. Todd Graves, the company’s fearless leader, has created a culture that has people hungry for more than just a plate of his food.

Many aspiring business entrepreneurs look to Todd Graves for inspiration. His story has become legendary. It is more than being that self-funded industry giant that people long to emulate. The corporate culture embodied in the One Love sentiment is a rarity in the food and beverage industry. Few fast casual restaurants can tout that deeply rooted loyalty of both employees and guests.

With the hospitality industry continuing to struggle to maintain its workforce, Raising Cane’s understands that it needs to value, appreciate, and compensate its crew for its hard work and dedication. Whether it is the younger worker who is getting their first paycheck to the employee who has accumulated years of service, everyone feels vested in the company.

When asked about his Crew having ownership in the company, he said, “We have industry leading retention rates and have many people who have been with the company 20+ years. In fact, 40%+ of the Restaurant Support Office started in our restaurants and worked their way into support roles. Our compensation and benefits are industry leading and not only do we have our Crew Member Assistance Program, which supports crew going through hardships, we also offer tuition reimbursement, a fully-funded high school diploma program, and free online learning that’s available to crew and their family. We also have a program called First-Time Homebuyer Program, which provides $10K toward closing costs for Restaurant Leaders purchasing their first house, and our Restaurant Partner Program, which allows our Restaurant Leaders to become partners in the business without any financial investment and accumulate a net worth of $1M+. We have many opportunities for crew to earn additional wages by being a traveling trainer, working busy or night-time shifts, and more. We also give our crew the day off for all major holidays and have early closures on days like the Super Bowl so our crew can enjoy time with their family and friends.”

Raising Cane's Nashville flagship store
Grand opening of Raising Cane's Nashville flagship store / Cristine Struble

Raising Cane’s creates value beyond dollars and cents

In a world where “value meal” focuses on slashing prices and special promotions, Raising Cane’s takes the value conversation in a different direction. Walking into the restaurant, the food combined with a hospitality driven concept is the real value of great food.

According to Graves, “The restaurant space is very cluttered with value offerings and BOGO deals, but you hit the nail on the head – not only do we offer high quality product, but it’s made to order, fresh, and served to you with excellent customer service. We are already competitively priced within the market and our customers can taste and see the difference in our product and their experience at Cane’s and know that they’re receiving a good value for that.”

At the same time, Raising Cane’s appreciates that it needs to be front and center in the food conversation. Instead of limited time promotions or price reductions, the company looks to create a buzz about the experience of eating those chicken fingers. Even though a video might not have taste-o-vision, that inviting visual moment entices the guest to go sit at the table for themselves.

As Graves explained, “Our food is craveable and high-quality, which has allowed us to retain our fanbase and continue building on it each day. That said, we place emphasis on our marketing and social strategy to remain at the height of culture and capitalize on viral moments and the news of the day. If something is being talked about, we want to be involved! This is why you’ll see us partner with athletes directly following the WNBA or NFL Draft, Bravo stars during BravoCon in Vegas, and musical artists after they win awards because we keep a constant pulse on culture and what people are talking about and want to make sure we’re involved in those moments.”

Raising Cane’s stays true to its original menu vision

Unlike other restaurants that are smothering their chicken with swicy sauces or smashed burgers, Raising Cane’s has and will continue to have its signature menu. Even if some people might want to sandwich those chicken fingers between a folded piece of toast, the reality is that there will be no wrap, bun, or other option on the menu.

For founder, Todd Graves, the reasoning is clear. He explained:

“We have the same menu today as we had nearly 28 years ago when I opened the doors to the First Raising Cane’s in Baton Rouge, and that’s by design. Our menu is focused and centered around ONE LOVE – craveable Chicken Finger meals – that consist of five core menu items including Chicken Fingers, Cane’s toast, Cane’s Sauce, slaw, and crinkle-cut fries. This focused menu enables us to be maniacal in the execution, quality, and service of our meals, and frankly do it better than anyone else. We’re not distracted by promotions or new menu items, which means our crew can focus on what’s important and that’s service quality Chicken Finger meals fast. This focused menu also allows us to stay true to the quality and craveability that put us on the map in the first place. For example, we still make our Cane’s Sauce, slaw, lemonade and tea fresh every morning, marinade our Chicken Fingers for at least 24 hours and hand-bread them, and keep that focus and dedication in everything we serve.”

Raising Cane's The Box Combo
Raising Cane's The Box Combo / Cristine Struble

While the menu will always be laser focused, Raising Cane’s is never stagnant. The company continues to grow, within its own approach.

Graves said, “We’re company-owned, which means we aren’t franchised and therefore have more control over the operations and experience in our restaurants. Going back to our focused menu, we’ve been perfecting our Box Combos for nearly 28 years and our crew go through many hours of training to ensure they uphold our high standards. Our crew take great pride in their work and the customer experience, and it shows in everything we do.”

Looking to experience the One Love for yourself? If there is not a Raising Cane’s location in your neighborhood, it might be opening soon.