Stacy Brown’s widely loved and hugely successful restaurant business started out small … in her little kitchen in Auburn, Alabama. After a quest for the perfect chicken salad had left her empty-handed, she decided she would have to create it herself. Batch after batch, she tested and tested until she finally landed on what she, and some very happy neighbors, agreed was the perfect iteration. We fondly know it now as Classic Carol. The chicken salad news spread, and very soon, Stacy found herself opening up the very first Chicken Salad Chick in 2008 on Opelika Road. Today, there are more than 110 Chicken Salad Chick franchises across the South with no signs of slowing. This Southern woman is steady and determined with the warm and personable nature you’d expect. We’re delighted to introduce this month’s FACE of the South, Stacy Brown!
Tell us about you and your background.
I was raised in a very loving Southern home by parents who made me believe I was capable of anything. Fortunately, true or not true, I believed them. When my life plan did not go the way I had intended, I fell back on an entrepreneurial spirit that my parents had nurtured since childhood.
How did Chicken Salad Chick come to be?
After a divorce, I found myself with three children to support and no career to speak of. By trying to figure something out that included my passions, it landed me starting a door-to-door chicken salad business. Chicken salad was my favorite dish to enjoy, and I love to cook and serve. Soon the health department informed me that my at home business was illegal. I decided to open up a small storefront with a partner, Kevin Brown, and it quickly became a hit as we fought to keep up with demand.
Have there been any specific “pinch me” moments?
So there is one question that I get asked a lot from guests in the restaurants and during interviews. It always stops me in my tracks, and I can’t answer it without crying. The question is, “Did you ever think it would turn into this?” It immediately takes me out of the task I am working on and throws me into overwhelming gratitude for our blessings. I rarely can get the words out, but people seem to understand the answer is, “No, I never could have imagined it would turn into this.”
What about times when you questioned the business or wondered if you should keep going?
Sure, there have been times when I have questioned the business and wondered if I should continue. I believe reflecting on the past and what it means, ensures educated, well-thought-out decisions for the future. I am very happy with the business today and happy with my role in it.
Who has inspired you along the way?
My parents, my late husband, Kevin Brown, and my business partners Earlon McWhorter and Russ Umphenour are all people who have inspired me along the way. Kevin has inspired me to always keep getting up when life throws its punches. My parents and Earlon McWhorter have inspired me with their hearts. They all live their lives putting other people first at all times. Russ Umphenour always exemplifies to me that making business decisions based on your core values is the key to good business and a clear conscience. I am thankful for all of their influence and examples of lives well-lived.
What advice would you offer a budding entrepreneur?
I would encourage a young entrepreneur to strongly identify what makes them a rockstar and then build a team of people who are all just as passionate about their positions. Your business should have talent and passion in each position, not just placeholders.
We have to know … which flavor is your favorite?
So choosing a favorite flavor is like naming a favorite child! I choose different flavors for different moods. I also have moods for what I want the chicken salad to top. Sometimes it is a Fancy Nancy on a croissant kind of day. Sometimes it is a Cranberry Kelli on crackers kind of day. And on a summer day, it is Olivia’s Old South on a slice of a freshly grown garden tomato.
What are you currently reading or listening to that is inspiring you?
All entrepreneurs inspire me. New, uncharted territory, new thought processes, a new way to look at an old problem are all things that fascinate me. And the people who can step out of the box to break new ground inspire me. I do enjoy the podcast “How I Built This.” It is all about entrepreneurs telling how their ideas came to life.
(SB TIP: you can listen to Stacy on “How I Built This” here!)
What are some of your favorite things about Auburn? Any favorite places to dine? Besides Chicken Salad Chick, of course!
What I love about Auburn is how committed its citizens are to the success of the community. People are injected into every aspect from schools, to local businesses, to economic growth, to keeping Auburn’s charm unique and welcoming. My favorite local dinner spots are Acre and Hamilton’s.
When you’re not working, how do you spend your free time?
When I am not working I am enjoying time with family and friends. I am a relationship-driven person who loves a lot of activity. Planning fun events and trips for us all to do together brings me a lot of joy and happiness.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
The best piece of advice I have ever received came from my mother. She told me to never fear change. Depend on it. When things are going well, do not take them for granted, because things will change. When things are going badly, do not let that paralyze you because things will change.
With the exception of faith, family and friends, what are three things you cannot live without?
Coffee, inspiration, laughter
Thank you, Stacy, for sharing with us and for blessing us with the best-ever chicken salad (we’re fans of the Cranberry Kelly, for what it’s worth!). And thank you the very fabulous Emily Jane for these beautiful photos of Stacy!
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