As Anchorage’s newest franchise chicken restaurant spreads its wings, local poultry places say they’re not concerned by the competition, but hope customers remember they have a choice.

More than 100 people gathered Tuesday at Tikahtnu Commons for the 10 a.m. opening of Louisiana-based Raising Cane’s first Alaska location. The chain — which specializes in chicken fingers, served with a variety of trimmings including coleslaw, French fries and Texas toast — inked a 2018 deal with Panda Express to open restaurants in Alaska and Hawaii.

Denise Pentecost places the first order at the Anchorage location of Raising Cane's, which opened on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. (Nick Swann/KTVA)

Denise Pentecost, who arrived at 2:30 a.m., was the restaurant’s first customer. She said Tuesday that she was hoping for a good, spicy type of chicken.

Pentecost, who has lived in Texas but never tried Raising Cane’s, said she likes local chicken restaurants but welcomes more options.

"I think a couple places from the Lower 48 would definitely bring this place alive," Pentecost said.

Ali Urbick, a regional marketing manager for Raising Cane’s, said the Tikahtnu Commons restaurant was the chain’s 431st location. More than 120 people will work at the restaurant situated just outside Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, catering to service members, whom Urbick called “a core group of customers for us.”

“We've got a lot of people from the South who know and love Raising Cane's, and then we did a training day yesterday and on Sunday,” Urbick said. “We had so many people come out in their New Orleans gear and they were so excited to get a taste of home.”

Anchorage residents flocked to the opening of Alaska's first Raising Cane's restaurant at the Tikahtnu Commons on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. (Nick Swann/KTVA)

The new restaurant’s management team has recently volunteered at Bean’s Café to feed people in need, Urbick said, and is coordinating with military-aligned groups as well as the Polar Little League. Managers urge other charitable groups to connect with them on the Anchorage location's website.

“We say active community involvement and we mean it, so we're really committed to giving a third back to the community and the local community that we're in,” she said.

Anchorage’s other chicken chains have relatively few locations, including several KFC restaurants and two Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen stores located on Fort Wainwright and JBER.

Since 1955, the heavy hitter in Anchorage's chicken scene has been the Lucky Wishbone, which has remained unchanged following the death of founder George Brown last year at the age of 96. Nobody at the Fifth Avenue restaurant was available Tuesday to discuss the opening of Raising Cane’s.

Roscoe Wyche, the owner of Roscoe’s Catfish & Barbecue on Sixth Avenue, said that he’s not worried about the arrival of Raising Cane’s, despite an economically tough winter.

“Anchorage customers are very loyal to local restaurants; they’re even loyal to franchise restaurants,” Wyche said. “As long as you have a good product and a good service, Anchorage [diners] are going to go — as long as they know about you.”

Roscoe’s has opened a second spot for takeout service near the Ace Hardware store on Muldoon Road at Duben Avenue. Wyche said he chose the location “to try to capture the folks that are going home to Eagle River and to the Valley, to let them stop in and get the food to go.”

Wyche says there’s still room for more fried-chicken restaurants to roost in Anchorage, saying the chicken market isn’t as saturated as it is for pizza.

“If I was going to compare, say, chicken and especially Southern fried chicken, there’s not actually a lot of good places that you can get it,” Wyche said. “I would welcome them to put our fried chicken up against most any other restaurant’s.”

Wyche said he’s never tried any of Raising Cane’s chicken.

“I’d never even heard of Raising Cane’s; I heard it from my father. He used to raise Cain,” he said, laughing as he referred to a biblical phrase.

Shana Whitlock, the chef and owner of Chicken Shack on Northern Lights Boulevard near Minnesota Drive, said Raising Cane’s isn’t in direct competition with her full-service menu, which features not only chicken but also a variety of comfort food alongside a beer and wine selection.

Although Whitlock recognized that Alaskans are excited about almost any franchise restaurant’s arrival, which she attributed to “people being separated from the Lower 48,” she pointed out that spending money in town helps keep it in town.

“Obviously we prefer that people shop and eat local and that’s the big driver behind cities growing, is shopping and eating local,” Whitlock said. “I think there is a growing trend of people appreciating locally owned anything, be it Chicken Shack or Lucky Wishbone or any of the other locally owned restaurants that are serving chicken.”

Many of Anchorage’s newer chicken restaurants, Whitlock said, are focused on chicken wings rather than a full menu of the dish. She said that leaves room in the local market for those which are.

“I would obviously like to think it’s not saturated from a business perspective,” Whitlock said. “I would not have opened Chicken Shack if I thought it were.”

Whitlock plans to check out Raising Cane’s at some point, but also has never eaten any.

“I really just don’t eat fast food,” she said. “I like whole food.”

Anchorage residents flocked to the opening of Alaska's first Raising Cane's restaurant at the Tikahtnu Commons on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. (Nick Swann/KTVA)

The Anchorage location of Raising Cane’s will be open daily from 10 a.m. to midnight.

Angela Krenzien and Nick Swann contributed information to this story.

Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.

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