Nearly 25 years after the first Layne's Chicken Fingers debuted in College Station, the Aggie company has finally spread its wings.
You can take the fried-chicken shop out of College Station, but you can't take the College Station out of the fried-chicken shop.
It's tough to miss the Aggie maroon and white exterior of Layne's, located at West McDermott Drive and Central Expressway, in a corner of Allen that's easily accessible by residents in Plano, McKinney, Fairview, Murphy and Parker.
Now that the Allen shop is open, two more Layne's will follow close behind: in Lewisville in early summer 2018 and in Frisco by late summer 2018. Garrett Reed, a real estate guy who lives in Celina, partnered with Layne's owner Mike Garrett (who has owned the brand in College Station for about 20 years) to expand the chicken shop into D-FW and possibly other areas.
Reed isn't an Aggie; he went to the University of North Texas. But he grew up in College Station and seems to have some maroon in his blood. He talks about tradition like many Aggies do.
"One of the things so important to me and Mike is our food is fantastic," he says of Layne's in Allen, "and that people feel part of the tribe."
Layne's sells chicken, crinkle-cut fries, Texas toast, potato salad and Layne's Sauce. If Layne's limited menu and secret sauce remind you of Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers, that's a fair analogy. But if you're keeping score, Layne's was established in 1994; Raising Cane's came along in 1996.
"We don't do a lot," chief operating officer Andrew Sidebotham says, "but what we do is quality."
Sidebotham is convinced Layne's expansion could be big. But he's a surprising addition to the chicken chain, as he grew up in the U.K. and came to the U.S. nearly 20 years ago to manage celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck's fine-dining restaurants in Las Vegas. What's more, Sidebotham is a health nut.
That's right: A healthy guy with deep fine-dining experience is running this Texas fried chicken joint.
"This could blow up," Sidebotham says of Layne's. "It's a simple, quality product."
Reed and Sidebotham researched areas in Texas with large concentrations of Texas A&M graduates — a smart move for a chicken brand that is small enough to be known only by visitors and regulars in quaint College Station.
Despite that, word got out in Collin County. Until Layne's opened over the weekend, Reed says, they have been turning away "300 to 400 people a day." They made one exception: They let an Aggie in to eat during a training session after he explained that he used to live behind one of the three Layne's in College Station and would eat there several times a week.
Layne's in Allen, Lewisville and Frisco take over restaurant spaces that were once Pollo Tropicals. (That brand closed all its North Texas restaurants by April 2017.)
The restaurant has a certain amount of goofiness to it, with a silly mascot called "the astro-chicken" and funky pricing on combo platters, like the No. 1, which costs $7.94.
"We are serious about our food," Reed says. "We're not serious about ourselves."