Ones to Watch | By Sabrina Davis
The dramatic, high-ceiling entry into Chicken Dijon Rotisserie Grill is an immediate clue that this isn’t your typical chicken restaurant. Nothing about this concept is average—the atmosphere, the food, or the history. It’s hard to believe that the owners entered into the business out of desperation and have turned a small, unprofitable store into a $6 million, seven-unit operation with plans to grow nationwide.
The story begins in August 1993 when 18-year-old Steven Nimeh was working as a delivery driver for Chicken Dijon in Redondo Beach, California. The restaurant had been open less than a year when the owners, faced with personal and financial difficulties, offered their business, which averaged just 40 customers a day, to Nimeh.
“My father had been out of work two years at that point, we were down to the last money we had. I told him if we all went in and worked—my mom; my sister, who was in high school; and my brother, Joseph, who was 20 at the time—we probably could make it work,” says Chicken Dijon vice president Steven Nimeh.
“I remember my father saying, ‘If I can’t invest the last of my savings into my kids, who can I invest in?’” Nimeh says.
Their father, Afram Nimeh, had a background in hotel management and, together with eldest son Joseph, took the lead in turning the business around. “We all worked together, even my sister who was the cashier while working on her high school homework,” Nimeh says. Then, tragically, Afram Nimeh died of a heart attack in December 1994.
“Since then Joseph has been the backbone of the company. He and my mom laid a strong operational foundation from the beginning and allowed me to go to college and get a formal business education,” Nimeh says. Thirteen years later, the whole family still is involved in the business, including brother-in-law and culinary graduate Raja Firyani, who manages food quality and product development.
Chicken Dijon describes its food as fresh, healthy California cuisine with a Mediterranean flare. That translates to salads, soups, sandwiches, and the signature Mediterranean-seasoned rotisserie chicken platters.
Just a few traditional Mediterranean offerings are sprinkled among the menu’s salads, appetizers, and side items including Mediterranean potato salad, Mediterranean fries, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, baba gnanoush, hummus, pita bread, and tahini sauce.
The Nimehs are of Mediterranean descent, and COO Niko Albanis, who joined the company in 2005 as a partner in the newly formed franchise company, is Greek. Even though the Mediterranean influence is authentic, it was not part of the menu until 2006, when the partners decided it could set them apart from other chicken companies.
“When we looked around at all the chicken concepts out there, no one was doing Mediterranean chicken. By adding just a few menu items we have been able to re-brand ourselves and give ourselves a sales boost,” Albanis says.