The Untold Truth Of Zaxby's

Many of us surely know what it's like to crave chicken. Poultry is a staple of quite a few of our diets, and whether you prefer that chicken grilled, fried, roasted, or cooked otherwise, it's clear that there are numerous ways to have your chicken. All told, it's possibly the perfect dish for anyone craving protein. 

If you can't trouble yourself to prepare that chicken yourself, or you simply don't have the time to do so, you can always find a slate of downright incredible chicken meals in fast food restaurants. From the breaded chicken nuggets at McDonald's, to a spicy chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A, if you want your chicken a certain way, there's assuredly a restaurant out there that will fit your preferences.

As if there weren't already enough combatants duking it out in the fast food chicken wars, there's one southern chain you may still want to know about: Zaxby's. For over 30 years, this chain has specialized in the art of chicken. Its menu features a veritable rainbow of poultry, including chicken fingers, sandwiches, wings, and much more. With its delicious and juicy fried chicken, Zaxby's has grown to become a widely beloved restaurant in the Southeastern United States. Yet, don't think it stops there. It turns out that there's more than meets the eye with this chicken chain, with many facts that might surprise even the biggest fan of the restaurant. This is the untold truth of Zaxby's.

One of the founders sold his drums to get money for the restaurant

In life, you often have to lose something to gain something. Sometimes, you have to give up your time to complete a task or trade away lesser pieces of Halloween candy for one better bar of chocolate. In the case of Zaxby's, however, one of the owners had to trade away something rather surprising in order to pursue his chicken dreams. The restaurant chain was founded in 1990, and the first Zaxby's building opened in Statesboro, Georgia, gaining recognition for its chicken and special "Zax Sauce" (via Zaxby's).

What might be surprising, however, is just how Zaxby's co-founder Zach McLeroy managed to get his chicken chain off the ground. The man didn't always want to be a restaurant owner, it turns out. In fact, he first wanted to pursue a music career before the chicken business came calling. That's when he was faced with some serious decisions. As he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, McLeroy needed to raise money to start the chain. He said that "We had an obligation to the bank. I had moved there. I had sold my drums. (I thought I was going to be a professional drummer, travel the world and be a rock star.)"

Though he isn't playing the drums professionally anymore, at least McLeroy can hopefully take heart in the fact that he's drumming up some serious business through his successful chicken franchise.

The co-founder's son was a NASCAR driver with a tragic story

Many parents have children who go on to do great things with their lives and make a name for themselves. Some kids don't follow their parents' careers, though, and may go on to become all manner of things, whether they end up as professional chefs, business owners, artists, and nearly anything else. This certainly applies to a former NASCAR driver named John Wes Townley. Townley was the son of Tony Townley, one of Zaxby's two co-founders, according to NASCAR. Tony Townley was running his fast food business, John was racing cars and competing in NASCAR races from 2012 to 2016. His father's company often sponsored John's cars.

Unfortunately, however, John's story has a deeply tragic ending. He was killed in the fall of 2021, after getting caught up in a domestic violence incident in Athens, Georgia, as CBS Sports reports. According to a police report, Townley attacked his ex-wife and a man named Zachary Anderson, who then shot John in the chest. After this incident, Zach Elroy, the other co-founder of Zaxby's, released a statement sending his condolences to Townley's family and everyone involved in the shooting (via Insider). After John's death, the Townley family requested that donations be given to an animal shelter that their son frequently supported.

A Zaxby's ad parodied a popular YouTube video

Companies are known for creating wild advertisements in order to get your attention. It's understandable, given how hard to flip through television or streaming services without seeing one ad after another jockeying for your time. Yet there have been some such spots that caused eyebrows to be raised more out of confusion than out of interest. Zaxby's is one of those brands that certainly has a long list of fun, interesting, and mouth-watering ads that may also cause many to scratch their heads instead of driving to the nearest Zaxby's franchise to get more chicken.

In January 2022, Zaxby's released an ad campaign dubbed "Guy on a Buffalo Wing" (via YouTube). The ad is a parody of an old YouTube series called "Guy on A Buffalo," which itself was a parody of an old '70s film, "Buffalo Rider" (via Laughing Squid). 

In the Zaxby's ad, a man rides on an oversized Buffalo wing through a forest, until he comes across a delicious aroma. The man follows the aroma into some bushes, where he finds a meal of wings that numerous woodland creatures, including a hedgehog and fox, attempt to steal. Eventually, the man manages to find another meal and ultimately ends up peacefully sharing it with the rest of the woodland creatures who were vying for the first cache of chicken.

Zaxby's had released limited edition scented candles

In a world filled with busy workdays that often require you to rush from one place to another with little free time, it's easy to get stressed. And when you do get a moment to relax, it's important that everything is just right in order for you to properly destress, even if it's only for five precious minutes. For some people, it's drinking a nice cup of hot tea, reading a good book, and taking in the scent of some pleasant-smelling candles. Now, it just so happens that August 15th happens to be National Relaxation Day (via National Today). On that day in 2020, when the pandemic was causing many people to feel a lot more stressed than usual, Zaxby's had a surprise in store for everyone.

Zaxby's released limited-edition scented candles in "relaxation packs" that featured a sleep mask, a citrus vinaigrette bath bomb, and a fried chicken-scented candle. According to Fox Business, the CMO of Zaxby's stated the company did all of this to help promote "peace, harmony and chicken with some soothing, on-brand freebies." These limited-edition candles weren't available for long, however, and were only given to the first few people who ordered them. 

While that particular relaxation day has long passed, we wouldn't mind if these crazily scented candles made a return. After all, who wouldn't miss the opportunity to try and relax under a delicious-smelling chicken-and-fry aroma?

Zaxby's fries pickles as well as chicken

Just about everyone loves a fresh batch of fast food fries. The potato treats are perfect to dip in ketchup, or even a milkshake, and enjoy the crisp, potato taste of the fried side. Some hungry consumers only go to chains such as Five Guys or McDonald's just to order a large box of fries — sometimes to share, though sometimes they mean to enjoy the carbohydrate bounty all by themselves. It's difficult to find anything else to truly match the downright incredible taste of some really good fries. That said, there are a few other fried foods that have just as much of a cult following as fries. While Zaxby's does offer fried chicken, it has sold another fried food on its menu that is a surprising fan-favorite: pickles.

Yes, really. While they aren't a permanent menu item, Zaxby's fried pickles have been a fresh, fried favorite that consists of sliced pickles coated in cornmeal and then deep-fried. They were perfect for dipping into one of the restaurant's many different sauces, and a delightful side to pair with a hot chicken sandwich or batch of wings. According to a 2021 press release, the fried pickles were offered to as a side to the Zaxby's Signature Sandwich, or as a filling snack on its own. Even though the side only came back for a limited time, surely the most dedicated pickle fans have been hoping and praying for its return.

Zaxby's has been looking to grow

Many stores, shops, and restaurants were hit hard by COVID-19. In fact, many establishments had to close their doors as a result, either temporarily or permanently. Other fast food restaurants were able to stay afloat thanks to just how big they were, and of course, whether or not they transitioned easily to fulfilling take-out orders. As numerous lockdowns and restrictions are being lifted, many restaurants have been looking to expand and grow their chains. Though Zaxby's has been looking to do this for a while, it's recently taken big steps to make this a reality.

In 2020, Zaxby's made a deal with Goldman Sachs in which the banking company would receive stakes in the Zaxby's chain (via Restaurant Business Online). Zach McLeroy, the co-founder and CEO of Zaxby's, claimed that this partnership would help Zaxby's find new markets well beyond its original home in Georgia. If you've never had the chance to try a Zaxby's chicken sandwich or wing, then this is more than good news, as sometimes (hopefully soon) down the line, there may be Zaxby's restaurants planted all across the country.

Zaxby's has violated child labor laws

Though many people may occasionally get away with speeding, jaywalking, or smaller acts of breaking the law, there's still a good chance you'll have to face the consequences of your actions, whether that's a ticket, community service, or even harsher punishments. If an entire company has a violation tied to its name, that makes the business seem a lot more unfavorable, and not just in terms of dining. Though it's difficult to find a restaurant that hasn't faced some sort of legal allegations, Zaxby's has faced some recent charges that are especially ugly.

In March 2022, two Zaxby's restaurants in Georgia were found to be violating child labor laws, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The establishments were charged with making children under the age of 15 work for longer hours than what was legal. What's more, the investigation revealed that 15-year-olds were using dangerous restaurant equipment, which further violated child labor provisions set forth under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Encore Foods Inc., which Zaxby's operates under, paid $15,533 for its violations and also gave over $1,900 in compensation to 10 employees.

Zaxby's sauces are what really brought the chain fame

Zaxby's may be known for its chicken wings, sandwiches, and platters, though its chicken wasn't the only thing that brought the restaurant success. In a Zaxby's, you're bound to also find a surprisingly long list of sauces and dressings to accompany your next meal. According to Zaxby's, you'll find classic sauces like honey mustard and marinara, along with the chain's signature Zax sauce, a zesty fan favorite. You'll also find sauces named after different spice level, starting at "Wimpy" and ramping up until they begin to hit "Nuclear" and "Insane" levels. No matter how spicy you like your chicken, there's a dressing for everyone on Zaxby's menu to enhance the experience.

There's some pretty good proof to back up claims that Zaxby's sauces are top-notch, too. Consider that, in 2020, Golden State Foods won the title of the "2020 Sauce of the Year ” from The Association For Dressings & Sauces for Zaxby's Caribbean Jerk Sauce. Golden State Foods Corporate Chef Kate Dolan claimed that the sweet and spicy Caribbean Jerk Sauce was a perfect blend of spices, habanero peppers, and mango. So, if you're going to Zaxby's for its chicken, there's a decent chance that you'll want to grab one or more of its sauces and dressings to make your fast food chicken journey truly complete.

Lil Nas X used to work at a Zaxby's

Before their rise to fame, celebrities start off just like any of us. They have to go to school, secure their own housing, and of course, get jobs. So, it isn't anything new to hear about a popular singer or celebrity who has worked in a restaurant prior to their current fame, such as Gwen Stefani, who worked in a Dairy Queen while she was in school, or Pink, who worked in several fast food restaurants before making it big as a singer (via Contact Music). Zaxby's also has the honor of saying a well-known celebrity has worked under its roof. Said big name is none other than rapper and songwriter Lil Nas X.

Lil Nas X wasn't always the successful musician he is today. In his earlier years, Lil Nas X dropped out of university and subsequently moved in with his sister. During this time, he worked at not only the Six Flags amusement park but Zaxby's as well (via FOX23). What's more, Lil Nas X grew up in Georgia, the same state Zaxby's was founded, so it's no surprise that the singer is familiar with the chicken chain. Even though he clearly doesn't work at a Zaxby's anymore, we're sure he'll always remember his time working for the chicken company.

Zaxby's has been accused of stealing its ideas

Many chains are quite similar in terms of menus, such as KFC and Popeyes. After all, both have loads of chicken meals and sandwiches. Zaxby's is much the same, though of course, its menu isn't an exact carbon copy of any other restaurant. Yet, because it isn't the first chicken chain to hit the scene, there are many accusations of Zaxby's stealing its ideas from other restaurants. 

Guthrie's is another chicken-finger-selling restaurant that sprang up in Alabama under Hal Guthrie (via Guthrie's). It was founded in 1965, well before Zaxby's. According to the Franchise Times, not only did the founder of another chicken franchise, Raising Cane's, work with Hal Guthrie, but Zaxby's co-founder Zack McElroy did the same. Soon enough, allegations of copycat behavior sprang up. When asked if they were bitter about the possible copying of their chain's ideas, Joe Guthrie, Hal's son, simply stated that competition is good for business and that he's confident his family's chicken restaurant will be around for years to come. 

Workers at one restaurant were accused of harassing police

Food fights are something that may happen at the dinner table between kids or in the school cafeteria but they are not something that you typically see happen in the workplace, or when you go out to dine on some chicken wings. Certainly, you probably wouldn't consider using food as a kind of weapon when it comes to your job. Yet some Zaxby's restaurants have been accused of experiencing just such food-related problems with the authorities — and it definitely wasn't because of a playful food fight.

Back in 2016, a Zaxby's in North Carolina was the site of an altercation between two police officers and Zaxby's employees. According to WBTV, as the officers attempted to order food, the cooks on duty began to verbally assault the police officers, calling them rude names. In response, the officers simply continued ordering, though they soon found that the food they ordered was inedible, having been covered in the hottest sauce Zaxby's offered. The Zaxby's where the event took place released a statement in which it assured the public that it was taking the incident seriously and would be starting an internal investigation (via Eater).