Chick it out! How 24 Chicken came, saw, and conquered in a pandemic
MANILA, Philippines – We’re a chicken-obsessed country. Fried chicken, buffalo wings, chicken wings, chicken inasal, you name it – it’s a saturated market to be in, and homegrown name 24 Chicken managed to infiltrate it in record time!
Many Filipinos are familiar with 24 Chicken, but as for me, I only recently caught wind of the hype during the pandemic, after seeing viral posts about it on social media. When restrictions loosened up, I also began noticing these iconic to-go boxes of chicken as a regular handaan staple at family gatherings, or a potluck and pulutan favorite at parties at home with friends.
“What’s the fuss about it, anyway?” I asked as I took my first few bites of 24 Chicken’s best-selling flavors – Yangnyeom with Garlic, Jack Daniels, and Snow Cheese. Then, I understood. This could almost give my usual wings place a run for its money! It was crispy, juicy, and bursting with flavor.
To my surprise, the Korean-style fried chicken brand had already been around since 2017. Why wasn’t it on my foodie radar until now? This was no doubt a business doing well, but only noticeably peaked in popularity and demand in the pandemic. Was it because of its delivery-friendly nature? The country’s growing obsession with K-dramas? Many factors have contributed to 24 Chicken’s success, proving that the friends-owned local business did way more than just winging it.
The fried and joy of 3 young friends
The idea for 24 Chicken – selling boneless Korean-style fried chicken – was birthed in September 25, 2017 by three young aspiring entrepreneurs, who first became friends after attending a short Chinese language course in China together. They are 24 Chicken’s president and co-founder Mark Gerald Ong; co-founder and operations head Jeff Derrick Sy, and co-founder and chief marketing head Samuel Jefferson Uy.
They were traveling abroad together when they got the idea of bringing Korea’s famous fried chicken to our shores. “It’s delicious, well cooked, and well-seasoned. It’s high-quality food, but it is still sold at affordable prices,” Mark told Rappler. At that time, Mark said that “good fried chicken” in the Philippines was still relatively expensive.
“We were wondering why, as rent and labor cost were lower in our country. We knew we wanted to offer Korean-style fried chicken that was not overpriced, but still good quality,” he said. To him, this could be done by not cutting costs on important things, not using below-standard ingredients, and not overpricing the chicken to take advantage of the the demand of the product.
Lo and behold! Shortly after, 24 Chicken opened its first branch at Leon Guinto cor. Estrada St. Taft Manila; a location close to Mark’s heart as a graduate of De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde (DLS-CSB), and also to Jeff and Samuel as De La Salle University (DLSU) graduates. This fact also inspired the student-centric concept of 24 Chicken – affordable, easy to take out, and easily accessible.
“We are familiar with the area and the market, since we originally only wanted to cater to students. Back then, we really wanted to become 24 hours, since students are looking for chicken to eat late at night,” Mark said. However, due to business struggles, 24-hour operations were not possible. Instead, the team changed direction and decided to open more branches to cater to more students. 24 Chicken’s second branch opened at P.Noval cor. Dapitan, the UST branch.
Fun fact: “We chose the number 24 in our name, because whenever students look for “24 hrs chicken” on Google, we want to be the name to capture their attention first,” Mark said. Smart!
24 Chicken quickly expanded across Metro Manila, strategically located near campuses, schools, office buildings, transportation hubs, and malls to cater to students, employees, and barkadas looking for a quick chicken fix after work or after school.
Things were running smoothly…until the pandemic hit.
Many restaurants unfortunately struggled under the pandemic’s effects; but ironically, as mentioned, 24 Chicken seemed to bask – and even thrive – in its lockdown glory. According to Mark, as of today, 24 Chicken has over 40 branches nationwide, with a projection of 10-12 new branches to open this year.
The plot chickens
It wasn’t always easy, though. Pre-pandemic, Mark said that a big chunk of their sales were from walk-in customers, who could no longer visit their stores when the lockdown hit. But loyal as they were, they ordered for delivery instead.
“This was a blessing in disguise, because during that time, people spent more time with their loved ones and ate meals together. When our loyal customers ordered our chicken, it was most likely shared with their loved ones, so more people were able to try our chicken. And you only need one bite to be hooked to 24 Chicken,” Mark said. They also made sure to provide the same flavor and experience, as if you were just ordering in the store.
“We made sure ordering for delivery was fast and convenient, and food tasted great. We understand that the only way to grow is to take care of our customers, and in return, they will they care of us by introducing us to their loved ones,” Mark said, highlighting the power of word of mouth. “Don’t fix what ain’t broke” is also a philosophy of the team – they made sure to keep things straightforward and simple; “no fuss or gimmick.”
“We know what we are good at, and we know where we need improvement. We stick to what we know and that is providing delicious boneless fried chicken. By sticking to what we know, we are able to ensure quality,” Mark said. No frills and no other intention but to serve good, affordable food in crave-able, addictive flavors that are adjusted to the local taste of the market.
“From the start, making huge amounts of money was not our goal. Our goal was always to build a brand that will be part of the Filipino community’s lives and have good impact. To us, this is much more fulfilling,” Mark added.
The team took the pandemic, as jarring as it was, as an opportunity for growth. To Mark, if you do not encounter challenges, that means that you are not growing.
“Different kinds of challenges arise from the journey of a growing business. The only way to overcome it is to constantly learn and never think that you know everything. Learning, talking to people and learning from them…. There is always a silver lining in every challenge that the brand overcomes.”
When 24 Chicken just started, Mark said that their vision was to be the “leader in the take-out and delivery segment of authentic Korean-style fried chicken in the Philippines.” How? By “serving happiness at a budget-friendly price” and by living by his four-step process: Dream, Aim, Plan, and Action. “Without action, everything is just a hallucination,” Mark said.
“We want to be a part of our customers’ lives. And today, I humbly can tell – with all the hard work, challenges, perseverance, teamwork, and determination – that we already have.” – Rappler.com