Restaurant serves up more than fried chicken in first year in Liberty Hill

Chicken Express recently marked its first year in Liberty Hill. From left are employees J.T. Solis, Amanda McCuiston, Wendy Davis, Raeann Collier and General Manager Mitch Van Horn. (Lauren Jette Photo)

Chicken Express recently marked its first year in Liberty Hill. From left are employees J.T. Solis, Amanda McCuiston, Wendy Davis, Raeann Collier and General Manager Mitch Van Horn. (Lauren Jette Photo)

By Lauren Jette

Just a little more than a year ago, Liberty Hill welcomed Chicken Express, and in its first year of operation, the restaurant has become a part of the community for more than just fried chicken.

“We’re very happy to be here and very happy to make this our hometown and that’s something that we try and do,” said General Manager Mitch Van Horn.

“We want to be a big part of the community, and we feel like we have from providing the service we provide, plus sponsoring all the different things that we do, like Little League, Booster things. We never turn down anybody, Lions Club or whoever it is. We do our part and be a good neighbor. We enjoy that and we’ve been accepted real well.”

So well in fact, that the Liberty Hill location of the franchise exceeded first year expectations.

“It’s exceeded our expectations for the year, so we couldn’t be more pleased with it,” said owner Clay Jones of Brady.

“It’s been very successful and we certainly appreciate the city and the surrounding area for supporting us on that,” he said.

In addition to all the local sponsorships Chicken Express provides, it also helps the local economy in more ways than one.

“We employ anywhere from 20 to 23 people there, full time and part time employment, so it does create jobs,” Jones said. “We have a payroll that runs generally $20,000 a month if not more, and when you look at that, it creates $250,000 to $300,000 in salary in payroll.”

Some of those jobs go to high school students, and for some of them, it’s their first job.

“One of the things we are really proud of is we hire students,” Jones said. “It gives them an opportunity to learn what work is and how to work and how to get along with a team working together there, and how to deal with the public. We love getting those kids involved and giving them an opportunity to learn what that’s all about.”

Van Horn said working with younger people is one of the best parts of his job.

“We have been extremely pleased with the young people here,” Van Horn said. “That’s why I’m in it. I really have a passion for teaching young people how to work and I think it’s important. These kids look you right in the eye, they speak in complete sentences. They’re friendly, they’re good kids and that’s been a real blessing. We’ve found some really good kids who work extremely hard.”

Jones said the restaurant generated about $95,000 in sales tax in the first year.

“The business continues to grow, our numbers continue to rise,” Van Horn said of the economic impact Chicken Express has. “Because of that, we’ve put a lot of money back into the community there, with sales tax and payroll, those figures are fantastic. We did hundreds of thousands more than we projected in the first year. It’s been a win-win for everybody we feel and we don’t see that going anywhere but up.”

Another way the restaurant has become a fixture in the community is through its sign, which sometimes features humorous sayings. A recent one warned readers, “The worst time to have a heart attack is during a game of charades.”

“I do that,” Van Horn said with a chuckle. “Most of them are original or every once in a while I’ll steal one that I see or hear someone say that I think is just too good not to put up there.

“We’ve had a good response to those and I’ve had a couple that didn’t go over too well and I get told about them. If I can brighten somebody’s day, it’s more than just selling chicken. Whether it’s good for business or not, I don’t know. A lot of people mention them.

“We have fun,” Van Horn added. “Everything about the sign is fun, except changing it. We’ve found that that’s as much fun as putting up specials and things.”

With the first year for the restaurant in the books, Van Horn is excited about the future.

“We would like to continue to grow the economy here at Liberty Hill,” Van Horn said. “We’re excited about what’s happening here, who can’t be? There are not many communities this size that have this future in front of them. Usually you’re struggling to survive. Not here.”

Even though success the first year was high, goals for the future are going to stay the same, Jones said.

“We’re just going to continue to do what we do best, which is provide a good dining experience and provide high quality food. I’ve got three rules: clean food, clean place, good service and it will fall in place if that happens.”