By Alex Dixon
Banner Photo by Don Delphia courtesy of Viva Chicken
With the increasing popularity of Peruvian roasted chicken concepts, there’s no shortage of places in Raleigh to fix your craving, but one chain new to the area hopes to give customers a different experience.
Viva Chicken, a small, Charlotte-based chain, has opened its first Triangle location in North Hills, where it provides a modern setting to experience South American classics.
“A lot of people know Mexican food but are kind of unfamiliar with what Peruvian food is,” says Viva Chicken owner Randy Garcia. “We wanted to create an environment where people weren’t intimidated to come in and try something they’ve probably never heard of before.”
Garcia grew up working in his parents fine-dining Italian restaurant, where he met Chef Bruno Macchiavello, a native of Peru. In between whipping up Italian dishes, Macchiavello would discuss with Garcia one of his favorite Peruvian dishes, pollo a la brasa. The pair decided to open a Charlotte restaurant, building from Macchiavello’s family recipes.
Just five years after the first store opened, Viva Chicken now has nine locations, with two more in the works for 2019. Garcia, who had originally planned for one or two stores maximum, says he is surprised, but pleased, by the rapid growth. He attributes Viva Chicken’s success to its high-quality food, as well as its atmosphere, which combines modern touches like techno music with authentic Peruvian dishes like solterito—hominy mixed with tomatoes, onion, cilantro, and queso fresco.
The main attraction is the pollo a la brasa, or rotisserie chicken, which is marinated in a Peruvian spice mix for 24 hours before being cooked in a handmade charcoal-fired oven imported from Lima, Peru.
Diners can select a quarter chicken, half a chicken, or a whole chicken, all accompanied by a variety of sides that range from the solterito to chicken soup. While the chicken can certainly stand on its own, the dipping sauces accentuate the spices and flavor. The sauces range from crowd favorite mild aji amarillo sauce to a hotter huacatay sauce (with mint, cilantro, and jalapeño) to the spiciest of all, gringo killer, with red Peruvian hot pepper.
To cool off some of the spice from gringo killer, Viva Chicken offers a selection of house-made drinks, from herbal limeade to chicha morada—tinted purple by its main ingredient, Peruvian purple corn, and sweetened with cinnamon, clove, pineapple, apple, and lime.
“We take a lot of pride in the quality of our food,” Garcia says. “Every day at 6am, we have people come in to each of our nine locations and start prepping just enough food for that day.”
Those seeking something different than the classic chicken-and-sides pairing can opt for one of many entrées, including sandwiches, wraps, salads, or specialties like the arroz chaufa, (Peruvian fried rice).
Garcia also draws from his fine-dining roots, which he believes sets his company apart from competitors. He emphasizes the importance of customer service to each new hire at Viva Chicken. “We provide five-star service, which is kind of unheard of in a fast-casual restaurant,” he says. “When we open a new store, we do about a 10-day intensive training to help the new staff see what Viva Chicken means to us and what we want it to continue to be as we move forward.”
Next on the horizon for Viva Chicken are locations in Winston-Salem and Greensboro, both coming in 2019. But Garcia says he definitely sees additional opportunity in the Triangle if the North Hills location does well. “Of course I’d love to see it nationwide, but we’re going to focus on growing in the Southeast first because all of the resources are here,” he says. “Whenever anyone asks me how big I want Viva Chicken to get, I say, ‘As big as we can make it without the concept getting watered down.’ I don’t want to lose any of the touches that have made us so successful.”