The Unlikely Origin Of Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers

Whoever came up with the concept of chicken fingers, anyway? They sound like yet another metaphor for something extremely unlikely, along the lines of frog hair or hen's teeth. Well, Leite's Culinaria dates them back to the '90s, which was also the heyday of the nugget and the tender, other pieces now known to galline physiology. (Soon to be followed in the early 2000s by another anatomical impossibility, the "boneless wing", according to the The New York Times.)

Well, whatever the inspiration that lay behind chicken fingers themselves, the idea of having a restaurant devoted to the dish once seemed highly unlikely. Raising Cane's founder and CEO Todd Graves, whose bio on the company website also refers to him as both fry cook and cashier (which no doubt he was in its earliest days), has quite the tale to tell about how he absolutely refused to give up on making the restaurant of his dreams a reality, no matter how many people told him it would never work.

How Graves got his start in the chicken finger business

The first naysayer was a professor in Graves' college business class at Louisiana State University. His business plan got the worst grade in the class, because the instructor thought an all-chicken finger concept was ridiculous. Undeterred, Graves tried to secure a bank loan to start this business, but the loan officers were no more optimistic than his professor. At that point, he decided to raise funds the old-fashioned way, through good old backbreaking labor. At first, he put in 90-hour weeks at an L.A. refinery as a boilermaker, but evidently this was neither hazardous nor grueling enough for Graves. He soon headed off to Alaska to fish for sockeye salmon 20 hours a day.

Once Graves returned from his fishing trip, cash in hand, he was able to borrow the rest of the money he needed through a Small Business Administration loan. The amount he received was just enough to open that first restaurant outside the LSU campus. His funds didn't leave a lot left over for renovations, however, so there was a lot of DIY involved

Who says hard work doesn't pay off? Raising Cane's now ranks among the nation's fastest-growing restaurant chains, and Graves himself had an estimated net worth around $150 million (via the Daily Mail). Somewhere out there, some business professor's got to be feeling pretty darn silly, since it seems chicken fingers have that golden touch, after all.