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Shaquille O’Neal once signed the richest contract in sports history and then won four NBA titles. These days, Shaq has a new business he’s trying to conquer: chicken sandwiches.
O’Neill, who was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2016, is co-owner of a restaurant venture called Big chicken, which opened its first location three years ago in Las Vegas. Last year the second one opened in Glendale, California…
O’Neill is now focused on sports arenas, the types of venues he knows best.
Big Chicken recently opened a location at Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena, home to the National Hockey League’s newest team, the Kraken. And on Thursday, O’Neill stopped briefly in New York to look at Ubs arena, a new home for NHL New Yorkers for $ 1.5 billion.
Big Chicken will be selling its fried chicken sandwiches at UBS Arena during NHL games and other events at the complex. The arena is located off the Belmont Stakes Circuit and is slated to play its first regular season game on November 20, when the Islanders play the Calgary Flames.
“Section 206,” O’Neill said, smiling at one of the many local television cameras that were in attendance for the promotional event. He was referring to the section where Big Chicken is in the arena.
“This is my ritual,” he told CNBC moments after the cameras disappeared. Fried chicken with cheese, pickles and hot sauce.
O’Neill founded Big Chicken with his friend Matt Silverman and agent Perry Rogers… This is not his first foray into the food industry. O’Neill owns various Papa John establishments and has even starred in advertisements for a pizza chain. In 2019, he joined the company’s board of directors.
But that challenge is completely different for O’Neill, because he is launching a brand from scratch.
UBS Arena will be home to the New York Islanders.
Source: New York Islanders / UBS Arena
Islanders co-owner John Ledecky joined O’Neill at UBS Arena on Thursday. In honor of Veterans Day, they took pictures with the servicemen and then stood in an unfurnished room to watch the chef prepare the dishes that would appear on the Big Chicken menu. O’Neill joked that he didn’t know all the rules of hockey, but said he was watching NHL games.
One of the sandwiches at Big Chicken menu name is Uncle Jerome, after Uncle O’Neill. The other’s name is Charles Barkley, a tribute to the former NBA star and O’Neill’s NBA broadcast partner from the inside out. Barkley’s namesake sandwich comes with macaroni and cheese on top of chicken, and crispy onions and Shaq sauce.
Big Chicken also has an MDE, which stands for Most Dominant in History, and is intended to describe O’Neill’s career in the spotlight, primarily for the Los Angeles Lakers. He was in the NBA first team eight times and in the finals three times.
In 1996, shortly after his arrival in Los Angeles from Orlando, the Lakers acknowledged O’Neill’s dominance. The team signed him up for a seven year old, $ 120 million to deal with. At the time, he was the richest in the sport and paved the way for the Lakers’ resurgence.
O’Neill led the Lakers to three consecutive championships between 2000 and 2002 and won his fourth title at the Miami Heat in 2004. He ended his career playing 15 All-Star matches and earning one MVP trophy. Last month, O’Neill was named one of the 75 Greatest Players Everas the NBA celebrates its 75th season.
# 34 Shaquille O’Neal and # 8 Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2004 NBA Playoffs
David Sherman | National Basketball Association | Getty Images
He was the “strategic consultant” for the sports gaming division of Wynn Resorts. WynnBET… Due to NBA rules, he had to give up his minority stake in the Sacramento Kings for the deal.
Restaurants were one of O’Neill’s biggest games in his life since the NBA. He told CNBC that opening fast food restaurants (QSRs) has been his passion since he attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. O’Neill said about the book that pushed him: “Dummies – a guide to starting your own business.”
In May, O’Neill and his Big Chicken team hired Josh Halpern, former CEO of Anheuser-Busch InBev as CEO.
“We do some things differently,” Halpern said in an interview. “We used more expensive chicken that was free of antibiotics, cells and hormones. We strive to get higher quality for the money. “
Shaquille O’Neill, NBA Star and Chief Entertainment Officer for the Carnival Cruise Line, invites guests to sample his long-awaited seafood dishes as part of the Big Chicken at the Mardi Gras Summer Landing Zone on a New York Carnival Cruise Line cruise. Summer event celebrating the arrival of Mardi Gras in 2020 at Pier 59 on June 18, 2019 in New York.
Mike Coppola | Getty Images
Halpern said Big Chicken will use so-called ghost kitchens to expand its distribution, allowing items to be placed alongside food from other restaurants on the menu so consumers can mix and match in the same order.
Big Chicken became a partner Ghost Kitchen Brands and will include items in a digital menu in front of major chain stores. One already exists inside Walmart in Rochester, NY.
Halpern said the strategy “introduces us to some areas and cities in the US that may not have been one of the first cities to adopt” Big Chicken. He said an office in Rockport, New York would open soon.
Big Chicken began accepting applications for the franchise earlier this year, Halpern said. The cost ranges from $ 450,000 to $ 1.4 million. The franchise fee is $ 40,000 and the company takes on 5% of sales and 2% combined for national and local marketing.
O’Neill understands the franchise model from his experience with Papa John’s.
“He told me, ‘It’s better to never harm a franchisee because I am a franchisee and you will harm me,” Halpern said. “He means 100 percent.”
Another place where consumers can try Big Chicken sandwiches is on the Carnival cruise. Mickey Arison, chairman of Carnival, is the owner of the Miami Heat, which won its first NBA title in 2007 with O’Neill at the center.
Scott Mlyn | CNBC
Restaurant franchises have been an attractive investment for many former NBA players. Magic Johnson previously owned over 100 Starbucks restaurants and has several TGI Fridays and more 20 Burger Kings in his portfolio.
Former NBA player Junior Bridgman bought numerous Chili’s and Wendy franchises before selling them for $ 400 million in 2016. And last February, former Philadelphia 76ers center Theo Ratliff partnered with Corlex Capital to find athletes looking to invest $ 100,000 in QSR.
“It’s like investing in stocks,” Ratliff told CNBC. “Let it grow, and when you decide to sell, you sell or continue to work and take the rest off growth. But I think this is a great opportunity. “
Halpern said QSRs allow “the ability to create wealth for many people.”
While Big Chicken is O’Neill’s biggest leap in the restaurant business, he has had others. He owned Shaquille’s, a restaurant in LA Live, the entertainment district surrounding the Staples Center, where the Lakers play. After COVID-19 stopped moving, O’Neill closed. Shaquille… He said it wasn’t worth paying the $ 90,000 monthly rent.
“And I didn’t get a PPP loan,” O’Neill added, referring to the Small Business Administration’s payroll protection program. “So I closed it and we hope to open it again someday.”
In February, Atlanta officials suspected arson caused a fire in the historic Krispy Kreme franchise, which O’Neill bought in 2016. O’Neill told CNBC that he recently approved a new design for the donut shop and plans to reopen it in 2022.
“As an athlete, you have to learn to adjust on the fly,” O’Neill said. “Have you ever seen a guy train one movement and when they take him away, [players] I do not know what to do. You must be able to adapt. “
But O’Neill’s work with Papa John’s is arguably his most prominent role in the industry. He was named to Papa John’s board of directors in 2019 to help restore the company’s image after former CEO John Schnatter resigned last year due to racial comments what he did publicly.
One of O’Neill’s former teams, the Phoenix Suns, is now facing similar disputes.
Earlier this month ESPN Article Suns’ alleged owner Robert Sarver mistreated employees and made racist and misogynistic comments during his 17-year tenure with the franchise. Sarver denied the allegations, and the NBA launched an investigation into the matter.
“I’m not a jumper — I’ve talked to this person 10 times and haven’t seen any of it,” O’Neill said. “But when there are statements of this magnitude from employees, an investigation is needed.”
The problem is rocking the NBA seven years after former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling sold his team when Sterling’s racist commentary was recorded on audio tapes.
“If the accusations are correct, Adam Silver will have another tough decision to make,” O’Neill said of Sarver’s situation. Silver has been the NBA Commissioner since 2014.
Shaquille O’Neal performs as DJ Diesel at SHAQ Bowl for Super Bowl LV on February 7, 2021 in Tampa, Florida.
Gerardo Mora | Getty Images
One of O’Neill’s key qualities as a businessman is making people laugh. During an interview at UBS Arena, he elicited laughter from the cameraman and also elicited laughter from the surrounding audience by making fun of the chef who made the sandwich samples.
O’Neill sees his mother Lucille as the motivation behind her approach.
“I just keep making people happy,” he said. “This is my mission. I’m just trying to fulfill her wishes and do whatever she says. I have to make people feel good. “
The chicken restaurant market is overcrowded, with companies like Chick-fil-A and Popeyes vying for a fried chicken sandwich, while McDonald’s and other fast food outlets are pushing their own offerings.
When asked if he plans to compete with brands like Popeyes, O’Neill said “absolutely”. He then added, “And we’ll never run out of chicken – never,” a blow to Popeyes that ended in 2019 amid a crowd on social media.
Before O’Neill left the event to catch a flight, he was asked to choose the best restaurant from his portfolio.
“I never think about it,” he said. “What I’m most proud of is that I gave my mom everything she wanted.”
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