If you ask any New Yorker about Sweet Chick, you'll probably get some response referencing chicken and waffles but John Seymour's behemoth of brunch-friendly restaurants are so much more than that.
Yes, Sweet Chick does chicken and waffles—and yes, they do them deliciously well—but the popular dish isn't the sole reason for making a reservation.
"If you just want to be in a place to chill and catch a vibe, then Sweet Chick's is for you," Seymour told me during our recent meeting at his Lower East Side café, Ludlow Coffee Supply, one of six establishments the New York native owns. He has five Sweet Chick restaurants in total, including two in Brooklyn and one in Manhattan, Queens and Los Angeles.
I felt the vibe almost instantly on my first visit to the Manhattan restaurant, the second of the chain Seymour has opened since his first in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The esthetic was cool and rustic, laid-back, down-home chic. The music blaring through the dimly lit restaurant was equally chill with sounds of alternative R&B. Artists like JSMN and Anderson Paak were booming through the speakers, along with old school hip hop tunes by Naughty By Nature, The Notorious B.I.G. and Seymour's business partner, Queens rapper Nas.
When I asked him about the cool-kid playlist, Seymour said the sound of Sweet Chick was an eclectic mix essentially influenced by the cool kids who work there. "That stems from us opening the first restaurant and listening to music we actually liked instead of putting on Top 40 like a lot of other places do," he said. "I think people appreciate the freedom we have to express ourselves with music."
Unlike the hordes of downtown guys and gals that frequent the Sweet Chick for a chicken and waffles and mimosa filled brunch, I decided to venture to the restaurant to dine on its dinner servings, which, of course, still included chicken and waffles. However, I was delighted to find a robust list of night-time fixings like the crawfish hush puppies served up with remoulade sauce and jalapeño jam and mac and cheese made with gruyere, fontina and aged white cheddar topped with a Ritz cracker crust—both of which seem to wash down particularly well with cocktails like bourbon and cognac infused Tiger, Tiger Woods Y'all, Christopher Wallace and the mezcal, lime and basil number, The Last Dragon.
The restaurant offers a mélange of comfort dishes like the Sweet Chick Bucket of chicken equipped with buttermilk biscuits and mash potatoes, as well as fried catfish with barbeque red island sea peas and braised greens. For the hearty meat enthusiasts, a darling skirt steak glistening with mushroom and black garlic sauce, pommes puree and chives should fill the stomach appropriately.
Then, of course, there are the chicken and waffles, which come in a variety of flavors. "The inspiration behind the menu was originally chicken and waffles at the center of it, but I want people to come in here and be able to experience different things," Seymour said, noting customers can't get flavor pairings like General Tso's fried chicken with a rice and broccoli waffle anywhere other than Sweet Chick.
Seymour's favorite? The specials. "I'm always gonna try the specials—like the venison dish we're running now—because I'm always gonna be interested in seeing what's new. As far as the chicken and waffles go, I always go for the Nashville."
Fried to crispy perfection and no hot sauce necessary, the Nashville chicken and waffles is a spicy lover's dream. The chicken is packed with enough heat to start a small fire in your mouth while the accompanying milk jam waffle cools the burn in a delightfully sweet way.
With expansion on the brain, people living outside of New York and Los Angeles may soon be treated to Seymour's Sweet Chick, and they may be able to grab-and-go with restauraneur's developing counter-service model. The entrepreneur tested the fast-food option at New York's annual Governor's Ball Music and Arts festival this summer, and in November, spectators at L.A.'s Complex Con will be able to get a meal on the run too. Later in the year, he'll take his business model global with Sweet Chick's popup at Dubai's Sole DXB festival, which celebrates the intersection of fashion, footwear, culture, art and design from December 6 to 8.
"We do it because it's fun," Seymour said when asked about the brand's cultural interests including festival appearances and Sweet Chick's fashionable collaborations with companies like Fila.
The means behind Sweet Chick's outside ventures seem to only catapult the restaurant's main agenda—to create a vibe for the people looking for one. "The whole driving force with the restaurant was really just trying to make it experiential and fun, a place where people could come in and have a good time," Seymour said.
He added: "If you're looking for a vibe and to potentially meet some good people and have some good food, Sweet Chick is the place to be."