Nicole and Francine Gomes are the owners of Cluck ’N’ Cleaver. Nicole was a Top Chef Canada All-Stars Champion.
Tell me a little about Cluck ’N’ Cleaver and why it’s different than other eating establishment in Calgary?
Nicole: I’ve always loved fried chicken, ever since I was a child. Ironically, my first job (when I was 14 years old) was working at a KFC. I’ve always enjoyed making fried chicken and over the years, as I continued to build my career as a chef, people kept asking me to make it for them.
I love cooking with chicken – it’s a fantastic source of nutrients and we support local producers to buy the best chicken available. It’s a lean protein that’s low in fat, high in levels of vitamin B6, which increases metabolism, and is a natural anti-depressant as it increases levels of serotonin amino acid levels in the brain.
At Cluck ’N’ Cleaver, everything is made in-house, from scratch, without the use of any artificial flavourings or preservatives. We take pride in the quality of our food and service, and we strive to make every customer feel at home when they come by to enjoy our chicken. Our menu also provides a tasty four-pound rotisserie chicken as an even healthier option for our customers.
Francine: There are a lot of great restaurants in Calgary and we love being part of that mix, but in a different way. As primarily a takeout and delivery-style restaurant, I think people initially expect ‘fast food’ but we like to use the term ‘better food fast,’ which describes our food much more accurately.
For both Nicole and I, it was important to use the best ingredients, sourcing locally whenever possible and cooking as if we were preparing a dinner for family or friends.
What’s the history behind this venture? When did it start up and why did you start it?
Francine: Thinking back, it started with Nicole making me fried chicken as a kid. As she progressed through her career as a chef, that childhood recipe evolved into what it is today. I suppose you could say this recipe is the result of 30 years of rigorous testing (eating fried chicken) in our family!
We talked about the idea of Cluck ’N’ Cleaver more than 14 years ago over a few drinks in jest. Both of us had been in the finer dining world and thought it would be great to do something different. At the time, we both moved on to other things; Nicole started a very successful boutique catering company called Nicole Gourmet and I gave up city life and moved to the Kootenays – I started a hobby farm, raising mainly chickens.
Four or five years ago, Nicole said, “Let’s do it!” Cluck ’N’ Cleaver was born and we opened our first location on 14th Street SW in 2016. Aside from what started as a casual conversation, our passion for chicken – raising, butchering, breading, cooking and – most importantly – eating it, is the main catalyst for why we exist. We love sharing a lifelong ambition for perfecting the art of fried chicken!
You recently expanded. Tell me where your first store was and why, and where this new presence is and why?
Francine: Our first store is located in the Beltline area (1511 14th St. SW), which we selected because of its great location. The area was under-serviced with a quality takeout option so we thought it would be a great fit for Calgary. Besides, how could we pass up a great little standalone inner city building with parking in Calgary’s core? It was perfect and had the right amount of nostalgia we were looking for when we were developing our brand.
Nicole: It’s a really convenient location, we have a lot of loyal customers who live or work in the area, and we also get a lot of downtown commuters looking for something quick, wholesome and delicious to take home for dinner.
Our new location is located inside the West Springs Calgary Co-op Grocery Store. It just opened in July. We thought our offering would be a great collaboration with Calgary Co-op’s local values and brand. When we were approached by them with the idea, it was a natural fit.
Again, we felt that area in Calgary was in need of a quality fast casual/takeout joint – a lot of families have busy lifestyles and we wanted to provide a local option for them. Just like our 14th Street location, at West Springs we have our full menu available for takeout and the option to order online for delivery.
What are your plans for the brand?
Francine: Right now, we’re working on expanding to more locations, which will include more Cluck ’N’ Cleavers in Calgary, as well as potentially going into different markets both in Canada and the U.S.
We think there’s a lot of opportunity and potential for our brand. More and more people are looking for the convenience of takeout, but want wholesome, made-from-scratch food that’s made with local ingredients whenever possible. We offer both.
Plus, we really focus on service – we get to know our customers, relentlessly ask for their feedback, and we know many of them by their first name. It really does feel like a family.
Where does your passion for food and cooking come from?
Francine: I think it starts at home. Nicole and I come from a family of cooks … and eaters! Our passion for food is all about sustainability. Growing up as a city girl, my heart was in the country. I moved to the Kootenays to expand my passion for hunting and learning everything I could about all things food. We want to be responsible and sustainable, so we’re really careful about where we source our food and products, right down to the compostable containers we use for packaging.
Nicole: We want to make a positive difference wherever we can, while providing amazing food for our customers. There’s a big difference between just preparing food, and creating memorable, made-from-scratch food without anything artificial.
Providing food that customers love to share with their friends and family – we work hard to do that each and every day.
Interviewed by Mario Toneguzzi, a Troy Media business reporter based in Calgary.