The exact origins of pairing fried chicken with waffles has been long contested. While an early version of the dish was popular among the Pennsylvania Dutch during the mid 1800s, the pairing is most commonly attributed to the country’s south. As it’s known today, however, the dish is perhaps best attributed to Harlem’s African-American community. During the 1920s and ‘30s, Harlem’s jazz club patrons would leave in the early hours of the morning, craving fried chicken. Establishments such as Wells Chicken and Waffles thus merged the two to, ultimately, create a meal incorporating elements synonymous with both breakfast and dinner.
Chicken and waffles’ rich origin story inspired New York native John Seymour to launch Sweet Chick in 2013 – currently serving a unique take on modern American comfort food across five sites in New York and Los Angeles. Since the opening of the Brooklyn original, Sweet Chick is now also backed by Nas and operates restaurants in Williamsburg, Lower East Side, Queens, Prospect Heights and Los Angeles. Sweet Chick’s first international venture will also open in London this week, taking over the former Carluccio’s site near Oxford Street.
Set to open on Monday 30th September, Sweet Chick’s first UK outpost will feature the brand’s famous fried chicken (brined overnight in sweet tea-stained brine) and waffles, as well as southern-inspired dishes such as ‘Biscuits & Gravy’, ‘Shrimp & Grits’ and ‘Mac n Cheese’. These will be available alongside new specials specifically inspired by the restaurant’s new home and a drinks list including a clutch of signature cocktails and beers from London Fields Brewery.
Ahead of the new restaurant launch, The London Economic spoke to owner John Seymour to find out more about the new site.
Where did your love of chicken and waffles come from?
“When I heard the story of how Chicken & Waffles were invented in the Jazz clubs during the 1920s in NYC, I thought we could recreate the essence of that era and put a modern spin on it. The story goes: a jazz musician ended his set late at night and went into the kitchen not knowing if he wanted breakfast or dinner. The chef said he had fried chicken leftover and could make some waffles, and chicken and waffles were born! It is a dish that brings people together and it has a cult-like following in America.”
What made you decide to open in London?
“London is so similar to NY and we’ve had so many Londoners come into the restaurant telling us how well they think Sweet Chick would do in the UK. To me, London seems so familiar and such a central part of Europe, it also doesn’t hurt that now I will be able to stop by my aunt’s house way more often for a Sunday roast!”
Was there a particular reason for deciding on the particular location?
“After exploring so many neighbourhoods I really loved the vibe at Market Place. That street has a special quality about it, and thought it seemed central enough for our friends who would be visiting London but also accessible to Londoners from multiple areas.”
How did you become involved with Nas?
“I met Nas through one of his business partners and we immediately vibed. We are both New Yorkers and have a lot in common, outside of him being a rap god. We are always talking about Sweet Chick and the most important aspect of the restaurant to him and myself is the community around it.”
What can visitors expect from the London restaurant, and what makes it unique from the other sites?
“We have tried to replicate the small details of the American sites, to maintain Sweet Chick’s authenticity as a brand. The PDR, also known as ‘The Jazz Room,’ at the Long Island City site will also be replicated at the London site (name TBC!). For the food, expect southern-inspired classics as well as new specials influenced by Sweet Chick’s new home and of course all the fried chicken and waffles. The drinks list will also include local brews from London Fields Brewery.”
Do you have plans to open any other international Sweet Chick restaurants in the near future?
“First things first, we need to watch this space!”
Sweet Chick is set to open on Monday 30th September and can be found at 8 Market Place, London, W1W 8AG.
This article was updated on 29/9/19 to include the restaurant’s amended opening date.