The Untold Truth Of Rise Southern Biscuits

Rise Southern Biscuits and Righteous Chicken is comfort food served with "plenty of soul on the side." What does this mean exactly? We know the fast casual restaurant serves up fresh, pillowy, warm-buttered Southern biscuits. While Rise's biscuits get top billing, the "Righteous Chicken Sandwiches" and crazy donut combinations have foodies swarming like bees to Southern honey. Fans of Rise know the fast casual locations serve breakfast and lunch comfort foods with a playful twist–like the Righteous Chicken Sandwiches topped with anything from crispy bacon to fried green tomatoes. Donut flavors range from your standard old-fashioned to Maple Bacon Flavored and Cheerwine donuts. Sides like cheese grits, fried okra, cheddar tots, and country gravy round out the Southern menu. 

What started humbly as a single local restaurant in Durham, North Carolina, in 2012, is now Rise Biscuits and Righteous Chicken franchise. Rise is spreading biscuit love with over a dozen locations. The up-and-coming franchise is growing outside its Southern borders too, bringing made-from-scratch Southern cooking to the masses. The growth of Rise has been one met with struggle and success. Behind every warm, soft biscuit bite is a bigger story, one of love, second chances, and the ultimate quest for real Southern cooking. We go through the back doors, and delve into fresh flour dust to uncover what makes Rise different. Here is the Untold Truth of Rise, "the best dang biscuits," chicken, and more since 2012.

Why Rise Biscuits, "The Best Dang Biscuits" deserve the hype

Anyone who loves biscuits will tell you, all biscuits are not created equal. If you've ever popped a can of biscuits open or used a mix, then you know what we're talking about. Quality ingredients matter. And that light, fluffy texture surrounded by golden perfection — that's what elevates the biscuit to pure Southern comfort.

Rise Southern Biscuits are award-winning for good reason. For starters, Rise's moist buttermilk biscuits are made fresh every 30 minutes. What goes into these buttermilk biscuits? Rise relies on locally-sourced ingredients like North Carolina-milled flour from Renwood Mills, 100% butter (no shortening in these biscuits). 

Rise Southern Biscuits and Righteous Chicken CEO Tom Ferguson has always had a passion for biscuits. As Ferguson explained to Fransmart, biscuits were the first item he prepared professionally that really resonated with people. Ferguson regularly travels to his various franchises to train on the art and craft of biscuit making. Classic Southern biscuits and gravy is a natural fit for Ferguson. In fact, the first dish his mother taught him to make was Southern gravy, to be served over biscuits, of course!

Rise failed as a franchise, then biscuits saved them

Having a solo restaurant is one thing, but turning that concept into a franchise is an entirely different type of challenge. One of the biggest problems franchisers have is consistency. Turning out the same delicious donut in multiple locations proved to be a downfall. The turnaround time wasn't fast enough to make the quality donuts Rise wanted, and Rise had to put franchising on hold for two years, according to Fransmart. The solution? Stop making the donuts in-house and focus on the biscuits. Rise had always made biscuits, but outsourcing the donuts gave Rise a more efficient, solid operation. Rise swapped out some donut flavors to introduce new biscuit combinations — a sweet-glazed blueberry biscuit and sweet potato biscuit. 

With the focus on Rise Southern Biscuits, the franchise was up-and-running again. As part of the rebrand, Rise changed its name from Rise Biscuits Donuts to Rise Southern Biscuits & Righteous Chicken in 2019. Downplaying the donuts and emphasizing chicken also served to increase their lunch crowd since "donuts and biscuits" make people think of Rise as a breakfast-only destination. This smart rebrand plan to capitalize on the biscuits saved the franchise, and the Rise franchise took on new momentum.

Chicken sandwiches played a big role in the Rise rebranding

When Rise rebranded, the fast-casual concept restaurant made some subtle changes and some not-so-subtle changes. For starters, the interior received a minor facelift. The biggest change though, came to Rise's branding which was reflected with a name change. The former moniker, Rise Biscuits and Donuts, became Rise Southern Biscuits & Righteous Chicken. Why the name change? While the biscuits stayed in the name, donuts were replaced with "righteous chicken." Rise didn't remove their donuts from the menu, but the "righteous chicken” was suddenly taking the leading role on ad and storefront signage.

Swapping the chicken with donuts was a strategic change made to promote Rise Southern Biscuits & Righteous Chicken as a lunch destination as well as a breakfast one. According to Restaurant Business, the chain's Righteous Chicken goes through a careful process of tenderizing the chicken, then brining it in buttermilk. Once fried to perfection, the Righteous Chicken takes its place of honor on a homemade biscuit or as in a giant to-go basket of chicken strips with choice of dipping sauce. 

Rise CEO Tom Ferguson has an unusual business philosophy

With over 25 years of high-end restaurant experience, Tom Ferguson put everything he had into the Rise restaurant concept. On opening day, Ferguson said he cried because he was filled with pride. Ferguson shares his personal challenges in his manifesto. He admits during his lowest moments his investors and supporters treated him with love. Ferguson promised that he was going to build Rise on love.

With that premise, Ferguson built Rise with the pillars of responsibility, connection, trust, pride, respect, and of course, love. Ferguson admits to being a nonconformist, and he wants to create a culture where everyone is welcome regardless of race, age, gender, etc. Ferguson says love is "not just a word, it's a way of life." Ultimately, Rise's mission is to bring happiness.

Yet, what really makes Ferguson's philosophy completely unorthodox? Birdwatching. To clarify, Ferguson, who never really cared about birds, is now an avid birder. Ferguson is very candid about his struggles with addiction and mental health, and says birdwatching saved him. Having a hobby outside of your business or family is important to leading a balanced life, he says. As CEO of Rise, Ferguson encourages Rise team members to have a hobby as well. According to Fransmart, this means allowing for a healthy work/life balance with locations opening at 7 am and closing at 2 pm.

Rise Biscuits and Righteous Chicken CEO Tom Ferguson has an impressive resume

Rise might be fast and casual, so it may come as a surprise to many that CEO Tom Ferguson is a formally trained chef from the Culinary Institute of America. Ferguson has worked for himself and for others in high-end restaurants around the country. This might explain why although it's a fast, casual restaurant, items like the Rise Biscuits and Righteous Chicken are made from scratch using top, locally-sourced ingredients.

Before Rise, Ferguson's entrepreneurial endeavors consisted of other food-related startups in the Durham, North Carolina area. To his credit, his LinkedIn profile states he founded the popular Only Burger and stayed with that for over a decade. Then later, he founded Durham Catering which Ferguson operated for over 16 years. Durham Catering was his last food endeavor before introducing Rise, what he considers a compilation of his years of food and life experiences. In addition to his lengthy food resume, he also served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army. 

Rise's donuts bring in customers, something else keeps them coming back

Donuts are the eye candy of the Rise operation. Who can resist the cheerful doughy rings topped with rainbow sprinkles, chocolate icing, or Cap'n Crunch cereal topping? We can't help but feel that giddy kid-in-a-candy- store, awe-struck, kind of wonder when it comes to donuts. But don't let appearances fool you. Donuts might have more visual appeal than biscuits, but Rise Southern Biscuits are more authentic than their showy Rise donut counterpart. Rise Donuts are frozen and no longer made fresh in-house. According to QSR, Ferguson said Rise will focus on what they do best, "That's biscuits. They are and always have been the soul of Rise." Fans can look forward to more biscuit combinations in the donut case.

Donut fans can still enjoy the gourmet donuts with crazy donut flavor combinations that Rise is known for like the Maple Bacon Ring Donut that offers a sweet and savory option. Or, the Cheerwine Donut that celebrates the Southern soft drink in donut form. Another fan favorite is the Salty Cap'N with a salty, sweet combination that ends in a satisfying crunch. Don't expect the donut line to expand though because biscuits are king at Rise.

Rise's spirit of innovation has driven menu changes

With an emphasis on biscuits, Rise Biscuits and Righteous Chicken has upped their game with innovative menu items. What started as the quest for how to make the perfect Southern biscuit soon turned into taking that same base biscuit recipe and adding other ingredients for creative biscuit menu items (via Restaurant Business). 

For a touch of sweetness, Rise created a glazed blueberry biscuit and a cinnamon roll using their Rise Buttermilk Biscuit Dough. Another fun take on the original Rise biscuits is a tasty mixup. Think what happens when Rise combines the concept of French beignets with biscuits — the result, the Biscuit Beignet. This fluffy biscuit doused in powdered sugar is the perfect excuse to make a delicious mess. For a savory biscuit, the original Rise Southern Biscuits are paired with cheese to create Rise's buttermilk and Cheddar biscuit. Of course, if you are the rare exception that doesn't like biscuits, you can build your sandwich creation on a Rise Potato Roll.

Rise stays true to its roots with Southern-inspired menu items

With a name like Rise Southern Biscuits and Righteous Chicken, well, that name seems just about as quintessentially Southern as food can get, but there's more. The restaurant name alone should clue patrons that every menu item will have that Southern flare. So, it comes as little surprise you can get Rise's sides like crispy fried okra, cheese grits, and cheddar tots. Top any of your sandwiches with the classic Southern gravy, pimento cheese, and Nashville hot sauce. Rise's drink menu ranges from classic Coca-Cola to Simply Orange Juice and Lemonade. Sweet tea and Honest teas round out the drink menu for cold beverages, and the coffee is coffee house-worthy. A hot cup of coffee comes from Counter Culture Coffee, a North Carolina boutique coffee brand.

The most unique Southern-inspired menu item? That prize has to go to the Cheerwine Donut. If you're a Southerner, then you're likely familiar with the classic cherry soda from North Carolina since 1917 known as Cheerwine. Rise has cleverly taken Cheerwine and made it into a popular donut flavor. What will they think of next?

Rise started as a small storefront in Raleigh before growing quickly to a nationwide franchise

Rise has gone through a large transformation in a relatively short matter of time. What started as a single biscuit and donut shop in Durham, North Carolina, has now grown to a thriving franchise. According to Fransmart, Rise Southern Biscuits and Righteous Chicken restaurant is gaining speed as a franchise, winning titles like QSR's 40/40 List for 2021: America's Hottest Startup Fast Casuals and Fast Casual Magazine Top 100 Mover and Shaker. Now the Rise franchise locations have grown to eight locations in North Carolina, two locations in Tennessee and Maryland, and one location in Georgia, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Plus, a corporate-owned location in Richmond, Virginia.

Of course, the growth has come with growing pains. At the start of franchising, operations were growing too rapidly and consistency was lost. CEO Thomas Ferguson recognized the problem and put the franchise on hold for a few years. Ferguson told QSR magazine that when it came time to franchise the second time around he was going to do things differently by putting "customers, employees and culture first."

Rise is known for breakfast, but savory lunch menu items are attracting more diners

Rise might be best known for their breakfast combinations like the Bacon, Egg and Cheese served with Applewood-smoked bacon, fried egg, and American cheese or the Sweet Country Blues with a sweet and savory combination of pork sausage on a glazed blueberry biscuit. There's more to Rise than breakfast.

As the afternoon crowd shuffles in, the menu choices tend toward savory. Rise's Righteous Chicken gets dressed in toppings for different lunch combinations like the Buffalo biscuit tossed in house-made buffalo sauce and topped with diced celery and blue cheese. Lunch inspires toppings like pimento cheese, Nashville hot sauce, and pickles. Of course, breakfast is still available all day. Breakfast, brunch, or lunch? Rise has appetites covered until 2 pm closing time. Lunch is gaining popularity among Rise fans, and many employees like the hours too since the early closing time gives them the rest of the day free to pick up kids, run errands or just enjoy the better part of the day.

Rise offers innovative vegetarian options

With a name like Rise Southern Biscuits and Righteous Chicken, it might not seem like a top choice for vegetarians. With numerous meat-free offerings and toppings, this couldn't be further from the truth. Rise's favorite vegetarian meals include Avocado Toast, a biscuit sandwich layered with fresh guacamole, tomato, fried egg, and their signature boom boom sauce. Fried Green Tomato is another choice with a combination of crispy fried green tomatoes and house-made Southern pimento cheese. As always, Rise fans can BYOB (build-your-own-biscuit) which allows for more vegetarian-friendly options.

Rise also offers meat-free versions for their fan-favorite sandwiches. For breakfast, the Country Blues Sandwich gets a vegetarian makeover with veggie "sausage" on a glazed blueberry biscuit. Rise's Nashville Hot Veggie "Chicken" is tossed in Nashville hot sauce, topped with pickles, or try the traditional Rise favorite vegetarian style -– the crispy Veggie Chicken Biscuit. Offerings for vegans are more limited, but the chain will occasionally announce special vegan items. For example, Rise offered a limited-time only vegan donut with coconut cream icing.

Rise has a strong connection with farmers and local food producers

Chain restaurants paired with local farms is not a combination we're used to seeing. However, Rise Southern Biscuits and Righteous Chicken's multiple locations offer a refreshing exception to the rule. Once a single little storefront in North Carolina, Rise has been able to grow its locations while still supporting local farms and food producers. How does a growing franchise like Rise Southern Biscuits and Righteous Chicken manage to support small, sustainable food producers? Simplicity.

Let's start with the biscuits. Rise Southern biscuits are made with only five ingredients. Rise uses soft wheat flour milled in Newton, North Carolina, made with locally-sourced grains. What goes between those biscuits is nothing less than locally-farmed sourced meats like Cooper River Farm's "all-natural, clean label pork sausage." Rise uses clean ingredients like nitrate-free Applewood-smoked bacon. In 2018, Rise added Counter Culture Coffee, a Durham, North Carolina-based coffee-roasting company. With gourmet choices like chocolate, nut and caramel flavored coffees, Rise is able to support local foods while offering customers a cup of gourmet coffee to go.