Maddox family hatches another chicken takeout success
Maddox fried chicken became a Utah thing long before KFC or other chicken chains showed up. Today, The Bird in Syracuse represents a fourth generation of the fried-chicken legacy begun by Irvin B. Maddox at his Maddox Ranch House in Perry in 1949.
But The Bird’s owners, Ben Maddox and sons Tyler Maddox and Clint Maddox, focus their menu on chicken tenders and chicken “bites” (known as nuggets to the rest of us). And it’s mainly takeout. There’s a small bar facing the wall with a few seats, and two outdoor tables. But most of the food goes out the door.
And although they’re related to the current Maddox Ranch House owners, they’re not connected, business-wise.
“We’re not trying to create another Maddox,” Ben Maddox said. “This is our own thing.”
Ben is the son of Gale Maddox, Irvin B.’s oldest son. Gale co-founded the Maddox Ranch House with Irvin B. in 1949 and worked there for 57 years, according to his 2015 obituary.
Ben already has a successful chicken spin-off. In 1998, he and his brother, Chad Maddox, opened C&B Famous Fried Chicken in Layton, a drive-thru that sells Grandpa Irv’s signature recipe for skinless, cornmeal-crusted fried chicken.
Ben’s children, Tyler, Clint and McKell Maddox Petersen, grew up working with their parents at C&B.
“We began kicking around the idea of a different concept,” Tyler said.
Instead of the bone-in chicken pieces sold at C&B, “Our menu is simple — chicken tenders, bites and side dishes. That’s really it. It’s better to do one or two items really well than a bunch of items and do them mediocre.”
After considering many different names, “We eventually just settled on The Bird,” Tyler said. “It’s simple and to the point. And that’s how our menu is, simple and specific.”
They opened The Bird in 2017. (After two years, McKell left the business to focus on her career in fashion design, Tyler said.)
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-restaurant dining in 2020, the staff didn’t have to scramble to figure out how to do takeout or work with delivery services. The Bird was already doing it, and the website offers online ordering.
The Maddoxes created a different seasoning for The Bird’s chicken, “Just to change it up, as a different concept,” Ben Maddox said.
The savory crust keeps the chicken moist. But it’s not overly thick, so it doesn’t get soggy while being transported as takeout.
One of the store’s top-sellers is the Family Feast: a choice of 10 chicken tenders or 30 bites, two large sides and six corn pones (oblong pieces of cornbread) with house-made raspberry butter for $27.49. It feeds four to five people, depending on their appetites.
“There’s a big family community here, and we like the idea of providing a menu that families can take home and sit down and eat a meal together,” Tyler Maddox said.
The Bird’s tenders-and-bites theme has a few variations.
You can get chicken bites served over a hearty mashed potato bowl, with corn, bacon, cheese and country gravy — “all the things that make it taste good,” Tyler Maddox said.
You can also get your chicken bites served over a salad. The market salad features baby greens with hard-boiled egg, bacon, sugar snap peas, chopped walnuts and shredded cheddar.
A second salad changes with the seasons — strawberry in summer, peach in the fall.
“Right now, we’re doing a harvest salad, with baby greens, apples, walnuts, cranberries and chicken,” Tyler Maddox said. “People ask us why we don’t serve strawberry salad in winter, but we like to serve the best fresh fruit when it’s in season.”
The salad ingredients and dressing are packaged individually, so they don’t get messy or gloppy while being transported. Customers mix them fresh when they sit down to eat.
A chicken sandwich was recently added to the menu, as a nod to the hoopla surrounding the Popeyes chain’s much-hyped chicken sandwich.
Rounding out the chicken are the sides and sauces.
Sides include french fries, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, vegetables, coleslaw or green salad.
Which is the most popular? Probably the fries, Tyler Maddox said. “But since we’re close to Syracuse High, we offer a high school meal, and we sell a lot of mac and cheese with those meals. And my daughter would say our mashed potatoes are the best.”
The sauces, made in-house, include ranch, honey mustard, sweet and sour, barbecue, Buffalo-type wing sauce, honey butter, blue cheese, fry sauce, ketchup or white country gravy.
For dessert, you can get mini cream pies — also served at C&B Maddox. The store recently concluded selling its fresh peach mini-pies when the local peach season ended.
Restaurant trends come and go, and people grouse about fat and calories, but fried chicken never goes out of style. People apparently prefer ordering it, rather than trying to cook it at home.
“Frying chicken in a restaurant is one of the messiest jobs, and frying it at home is even more work than anything else,” Ben Maddox pointed out.
In fact, crispy chicken seems to be enjoying a surge in popularity, with local “bird” joints such as Sticky Bird, Pretty Bird and Dirty Bird all gaining fan followings, and the Raising Cane’s national chain making waves when it opened in Utah earlier this year.
And in Syracuse, The Bird is flying high.
If you go
Location: 2432 W. 1700 South, Syracuse
Contact: (385) 477-8663 or https://www.lovethebird.com/
Prices: From 60 cents per individual chicken bite to $27.49 for the Family Feast; combo meals, bowls and salads range from $7.19-7.99
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday; closed Sunday