Joe DeLoss is a handsome bastard. Which is probably why he can make you wait in line for a $10 fried chicken dinner so spicy, so oppressively hot that you’ll imagine your tastebuds bubbling up and flaking off just like the buttermilk-fried flesh – flesh that you’re still picking at despite the pain. And you’ll probably thank the handsome bastard for it.
“It’s really hot,” he laughs as we share a milder preparation of chicken at B&K Smokehouse on Main Street. “I want to be unapologetic about it: it’s f*cking hot chicken! If you don’t want hot chicken, don’t come here.”
DeLoss got the inspiration for his semi-permanent pop-up idea from a trip to Nashville, as well as nine months of consistent fried chicken consumption by he and his pregnant wife. Seeing Columbus as something of a chicken desert, he and his wife started their own mission to dinner dominance in town, fine-tuning their frying in their own kitchen at house parties.
Hot Chicken, which comes paired with mac-and-cheese, coleslaw (his grandma’s recipe), and two slices of white bread (the recipe for relief), is DeLoss’ attempt to build up an “institutional presence” in its irregular offerings.
“If you look at what Thurman [Café’] has accomplished, they are the quintessential burger in town, it’s a destination food,” he said. “If I can line up 200 people each Saturday to buy chicken rain or shine, that’s a really great way to prove the model.”
The second half of the HCT model is operating out of re-developing areas (for now, a quaint takeout window at Olde Towne East’s Near East Side Co-Op), and serving affordable food by “employing folks who don’t otherwise have employment,” a nod to DeLoss’ days as the CEO for Freshbox Catering, who had a similar “mission model.”
“Fried chicken crosses so many cultural boundaries,” he said. “Everybody eats fried chicken, and something about that really appeals to me from a community perspective.”
HCT has already appealed to the community as well, with hundreds filling the picnic tables at the Co-Op each weekend, sipping gallons of sweet tea and soaking up a simple lunch or dinner.
And DeLoss is as unapologetic about Hot Chicken’s model as he is about its heat.
“It’s a lot easier to justify only doing two things when you’re selling out of a two-by-two foot window… Do you want white, dark, boneless? Those are your options.”
And despite the heat, you’ll have no other option but to keep coming back. •