Raising Cane's serves chicken fingers, and chicken fingers only Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Banish the taste of frozen chicken tenders from your memory, because Raising Cane’s is expanding in Philadelphia. Its second location is now open in North Philly, with more on the way.

A cult-favorite chain that started in Louisiana and has since expanded to over 550 locations worldwide, the brand regularly draws crowds of self-described “craniacs” hankering for the lightly-battered, unexpectedly juicy chicken fingers that are the sole focus of its concise menu.

Philly’s second branch launched Aug. 9 at 1717 N. 12th St., near Temple’s campus just above Cecil B. Moore.

It joins one that opened in University City this May, where lines extended along the sidewalk for nearly a week after opening day. The company is reportedly opening more in the region soon, targeting somewhere in Southwest Philadelphia, plus Fairless Hills and Trevose in Bucks.

The North Philly outpost is in the middle of a raised concourse plaza at the spiffy apartment/student housing complex called The View at Montgomery. There are a few other chain restaurants there — Blaze Pizza, Chipotle, Potbelly, Five Guys — but Raising Cane’s was easily the busiest.

What’s the draw? Read on for details.

The interior of Raising Cane’s on Cecil B. Moore Avenue is filled with Temple University memorabilia Credit: Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

What makes it special

If you want something other than chicken fingers, you’ll have to go elsewhere. Unlike many fried chicken chains, there’s nothing else on the menu at Cane’s other than a few sides (fries, slaw, Texas toast). Your main job when ordering is to decide between getting those fingers in a sandwich or a basket.

That’s entirely on purpose, per founder Todd Graves, who told Mashed it lets the company concentrate on doing just one thing right.

In this case, that means using only tenderloins, the tender strip that hangs off the breast. The meat is brined for 24 hours, then breaded and fried to order. It all results in a bite that’s crispy, juicy, and flavorful — and that flavor is basically chicken.

There appear to be very few spices in the ultralight batter, though you can order sides of dipping sauce, in classic Cane’s sauce (think ketchup x mayo x cajun flavors) or honey mustard.

The coleslaw that comes with many of the menu’s combos is reportedly made on site daily, and the toast that gets grilled with garlic butter comes from a “pull-apart” loaf, instead of being pre-sliced.

On the drink side, Coca-Cola options are offered along with fresh-brewed iced tea (sweet or unsweetened) and house-squeezed lemonade.

The tenderloin meat is never frozen, and it stays juicy inside the fried-to-order finger Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

How it came to be

Now one of the fastest-growing chains in the country, Raising Cane’s got off to a rocky start, according to company lore.

Founder Graves reportedly came up with the idea for a chicken fingers-only restaurant in college at LSU, but his prof gave the submitted business plan the worst grade in class, and banks also said no. So the Louisiana native worked elsewhere for a few years, then returned to bootstrap a first location near his alma mater, naming it after his dog.

The crowds that showed up for the 1996 launch and caused the unsuspecting restaurant to sell out have barely slowed down as the brand spread outward from Baton Rouge. There are now outposts in 29 U.S. states and several in the Middle East, all of them corporate-owned.

In contrast with some competitors in the fried chicken space, Raising Cane’s is known for socially progressive policies. Most wages were boosted last year by 15%, under current CEO AJ Kumaran — who also recently bought Mega Millions tickets for every company employee.

The Raising Cane’s menu is short and simple Credit: Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

What it means for the neighborhood

North Philadelphia has no shortage of chain fried chicken. Within a half-mile radius of Raising Cane’s you’ll find Popeyes, KFC, Wingstop, ChiMcKing, Touchdown Wings, and the Philly-ubiquitous Crown’s.

Cane’s stands out for the tenderness and juiciness of its meat, along with the lightness of its batter, which seems barely there. (Want to skip it entirely? Just order your fingers “naked.”)

The complex that contains the restaurant, which also sports a big new CVS, has housing for 2,500 students and is part of the continued expansion of Temple University into the neighborhood.

Local orgs and nonprofits can look to Raising Cane’s for help raising money; the chain invites groups to submit requests for fundraisers to be held at a certain location. Once approved, the branch will donate 15% of sales during the fundraiser back to the organization.

The complex with Raising Cane’s has student apartments and retail Credit: Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

What to expect when you go

Disco balls are a big part of the decor, ensconced in the ceiling next to sound-proofing panels. That’s important, because it can get noisy inside thanks to the method of food delivery.

After you order and pay at the counter — $10 for a classic “Box Combo” with four fingers, $15 for a six-finger package — you stand to the side and wait for your food. When it’s ready, a Raising Cane’s worker shouts out your name, and if you don’t hear it, shouts it again and again.

If you happen to want just the chicken without the slaw/toast/fries sides, you can get a single finger for $1.59. A sandwich on its own comes in at $6.70.

Interior walls are covered with Temple University memorabilia, interspersed with a few shoutouts to Louisiana and explanations of Raising Cane’s philosophy. There are wooden benches along one side of the room, and hightops in the center. Outdoor tables are also available.

The North Philly location is open 10 a.m. to midnight Sunday-Wednesday and 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday-Saturday.

Disco balls along the ceiling of the North Philly store, ensconced in sound-proofing material Credit: Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital
Credit: Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital
Credit: Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

Danya Henninger is director and editor of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the membership program. She is a former food...