Slim Chickens opens first Minnesota location in Mankato

·3 min read

Jul. 12—MANKATO — Michael and Heidi Wels were going to stop in the new Slim Chickens restaurant on its opening day Monday but changed their minds.

"They were lined up outside," Michael said.

Instead the couple returned when the store opened late Tuesday morning, where there was still a line, but it was at least inside the building.

The popular chain, a leading fast casual franchise in the "better chicken" segment, is on the footprint of what was Grizzly's Wood-Fired Grill on Madison Avenue.

The couple gave good reviews of the menu and staff.

"The flavor of the chicken and breading was really good," Michael said. "And they have a bunch of dipping sauces that were good."

The restaurant chain boasts 17 house-made dipping sauces.

Heidi Wels said the staff was fast, courteous and helpful. "Everyone is really kind and very friendly."

Slim Chickens is approaching 200 locations, with most located in the south. They have created a devoted fan base, known as "Slimthusiasts," who appreciate the cooked-to-order fresh food. They have hundreds of new locations in the works.

The menu includes wings, chicken sandwiches, wraps, salads, chicken and waffles, and fried pickles and fried okra.

In the five-state area, there is one Slim Chickens in Iowa (Ankeny), three in South Dakota (all in Sioux Falls) and three in North Dakota (Fargo, Minot, Williston).

The Mankato location was opened by Steve Letnes and business partner Pete Poepping. They and other partners own Boulder Tap, 7 West TapHouse, and they owned the Grizzly's in Mankato and in many other locations in the Upper Midwest.

"Our company is looking to diversify," Letnes said in an earlier interview. He said his group signed a 13-unit agreement with Slim Chickens. "So we'll be bringing them to quite a few towns in Minnesota."

Letnes said this is his group's first foray into a franchise restaurant. "The food is really good or we wouldn't be going with them. We do more of our own thing with Boulder Tap and 7 West and Grizzly's, but this is a franchise we really believe in and the food is really good."

The 3,500-square-foot Slim Chickens was built in part of the footprint of the 7,000-square-foot Grizzly's. Letnes leased land on the east side of the restaurant — next to the strip mall containing Erbert & Gerbert's — for the drive-thru for Slim Chickens.

While the fieldstone-covered Grizzly's looked like a newer building to many, it was more than 40 years old.

Letnes got his start in the restaurant business when he and his brother built Bonanza in 1980. They later converted it to Grizzly's.

In 2018, the Letnes Restaurant Group built the 7 West TapHouse on Madison Avenue, near Victory Drive, on the site that was most recently Eatery Tap.

Several years ago Letnes opened Boulder Tap in the former Famous Dave's building near Drummers Garden Center and Floral.

Slim Chickens is one of the latest chains in the red-hot market for chicken.

The first restaurant opened in 2003 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where the chain is based.

The restaurant offers seasonal items such as tender mac and cheese, buffalo mac, strawberry salads and seasonal drinks such as cranberry and strawberry lemonades.

Slim Chickens also serves desserts in Mason jars.