Can Shaquille O’Neal become as big in the chicken game as he was in that other game? The 15-time NBA All-Star is about to open the second Las Vegas location of his Big Chicken restaurant. The fast-food franchise will open on Thursday, January 12 on the site of the former Bok Bok Chicken at 9595 W. Tropicana Ave.
The 7-foot-1 former superstar center is one of three owners of Big Chicken, which can already be found in 10 states and on three Carnival Cruise ships. Big Chicken offers an artery-clogging cornucopia of fried chicken sandwiches, all with names that all have special meanings to O’Neal.
It’s personal,” O’Neal told the Franchise Times trade publication in March. “I wanted them all to have names and identities, stories behind the sandwiches.” The Uncle Jerome, for instance, is a spicy Nashville hot chicken sandwich named for O’Neal’s friend and longtime bodyguard, Jerome Crawford, who would always douse his chicken in hot sauce.
There’s also the Charles Barkley, which includes mac & cheese, fried onions, and roasted garlic BBQ aioli. O’Neal – who has a longstanding feud with his fellow NBA Hall of Famer that veers from playful to ugly – told the Franchise Times he gave the sandwich that name because “it’s the sloppiest sandwich you could ever make.”
“I think it’s fair to say that I hate Charles Barkley,” O’Neil elaborated to his interviewer while laughing. “If he was here right now, I’d punch him right in the face.” Apparently, Barkley wasn’t pleased with the “honor,” since the sandwich is now listed on Big Chicken’s website as the Big & Sloppy.
Shaq’s Big Plans
Shaq opened the first Big Chicken in Las Vegas in October 2018, on the site of the former Origin India restaurant across from the Virgin Hotel. He documented the restaurant’s progress before the opening with a Facebook video series called “Big Chicken Shaq.”
Big Chicken has also opened restaurants in LA and Dayton, Ohio, as well as locations in Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena, New York’s UBS Arena, and Austin’s Moody Center. According to the Franchise Times, more than 150 new locations are in the development pipeline.
The franchising game isn’t new to O’Neal. At one point, he owned 155 Five Guys restaurants, several 24 Hour Fitness locations, and 17 Auntie Anne’s stores. He’s now a Krispy Kreme franchisee, and a Papa John’s board member and investor in nine locations.
Raised by a drill sergeant dad who “was never satisfied and told me never to be satisfied,” O’Neal told the Franchise Times he didn’t want to be part of the 60% of NBA players who go broke after leaving the league.
In 2019, O’Neal also opened Shaquille’s, an upscale restaurant featuring Southern cuisine, across from the Staples Center (now Crypto.com Arena) in Los Angeles. That also features the same fried chicken as Big Chicken, but on the bone.
Shaq May Not Eat His Own Chicken
In a May 2022 interview with Urban Eats & Treats, a food and travel series from comedian Kevin Hart’s Laugh Out Loud Studio, O’Neal admitted to eating a mostly vegan diet for health reasons.
Whenever I want to cheat,” he told interviewer Rip Michaels at an Atlanta restaurant called Slutty Vegan, “I come over here and cheat … I can eat healthy, but still feel like I’m eating bad.”
In 2019, O’Neal joined 13 other professional athletes as investors and ambassadors of the vegan brand Beyond Meat.
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