Chicken Express breaks ground in Liberty Hill

From left, Chicken Express owners Clay and Wendy Jones joined General Manager Mitch Van Horn of Bertram, local real estate broker Clyde Davis and the construction manager for a site visit March 26. (Shelly Wilkison Photo)

From left, Chicken Express owners Clay and Wendy Jones joined General Manager Mitch Van Horn of Bertram, local real estate broker Clyde Davis and the construction manager for a site visit March 26. (Shelly Wilkison Photo)

By SHELLY WILKISON

If all goes according to plan, Liberty Hill could be enjoying fried chicken and all the fixins by the end of July.

Restaurant Owner Clay Jones and his wife, Wendy, of Brady, joined General Manager Mitch Van Horn in Liberty Hill Wednesday at the site of the long-anticipated Chicken Express. Construction crews broke ground on the new fast food restaurant earlier this week.

Jones, who owns a Chicken Express in Brady where he is also in the banking business, told The Independent that he discovered Liberty Hill while passing through on his way to Austin where his daughter attends the University of Texas.

“This is a small community that won’t be small for long,” said Jones.

He said when he noticed the property for sale on the north side of State Highway 29 at Bailey Lane across from Liberty Hill Intermediate School, he called local real estate  broker Clyde Davis whose office at RE/MAX Real Estate is across the highway.

“I learned Clyde owned the lot, and here we are,” said Jones.

He said he was interested in Liberty Hill because of the projected growth and high traffic along SH 29. He said he also noticed that there were limited restaurant choices in the community.

“I’m hopeful that chicken is something Liberty Hill wants,” he said. “I believe this will be the start of something big for Liberty Hill.”

Mitch Van Horn of Bertram will be General Manager of the Liberty Hill restaurant. With more than 20 years in the restaurant business and a previous career in coaching in the Texas Panhandle, Van Horn said he is looking forward to working in Liberty Hill. He currently is general manager of Jones’ restaurant in Brady.

Van Horn said the local business will employ about 25 people and 10 of those will be full-time positions. Typically, about 60 percent of the employees at Chicken Express are teenagers or recent high school graduates.

“I enjoy teaching kids how to work,” Van Horn said. “We (Chicken Express) try to help kids get employment while they’re in high school and even place them in other (Chicken Express) locations when they go off to college. And we do offer opportunities for advancement within the organization.”

Van Horn said the hiring process will not begin until about a month prior to the restaurant’s opening this summer.

“We have a great product, and this is the friendliest, cleanest, fast food place you will ever visit,” Van Horn said. “We will put together a team here that will enjoy coming to work.”

Van Horn agreed with Jones that  Liberty Hill is an ideal location for Chicken Express.

“In the matter of a minute while I was waiting, I counted 61 cars pass by here at 3:45 (p.m.),” Van Horn said.

He said when complete, the restaurant will seat 50 guests inside, but added that 75 percent of its business are drive-thru  customers. A drive-thru lane will encircle the building with the entrance and exit on Bailey Lane.

Chicken Express has 190 locations in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Georgia, and according to its website, is one of the fastest growing chicken fast food franchises. In addition to Jones’ restaurant in Brady, Central Texas is home to other Chicken Express restaurants in Burnet, Marble Falls, Round Rock and Lakeway.