This past summer, New York City reached pandemonium levels of excitement, and it wasn’t because of the Beyoncé concert. Raising Cane’s opened its first location in the city, an 8,000-square-foot flagship in Times Square. I saw Instagram Story after Instagram Story of people lined up outside the place and walking out with chicken fingers and branded merch, which I found fascinating because I had never even heard of Raising Cane’s.
By now, I know that Raising Cane’s is quite a phenomenon, and one that’s rapidly expanding. In the crowded field of fast food chicken, the chain has managed to carve out a unique lane for itself. KFC and Popeyes focus on the traditional of fried chicken and Chick-fil-A focuses on sandwiches, but Raising Cane’s focuses squarely on chicken fingers. It started in Louisiana and gained popularity after expanding into Texas. Now, it’s made its way eastward, and the business raked in over $3 billion in sales last year. The success has made owner Todd Graves the fast food sector’s Elon Musk.
Bloomberg reports Todd Graves has an estimated net worth of $7.6 billion, making him the richest person in Louisiana and the 307th richest person in the world. Unlike a lot of CEOs, Graves seems to relish celebrity: He and his dog Cane III (the restaurant’s namesake) are the public faces of the chicken chain and even appear in commercials, like this one featuring Post Malone. You could say Graves is the new “Papa” John Schnatter. Hopefully he doesn’t suffer the same fall from grace.
However, Graves is also channeling Robert Irvine. He has hosted two TV shows: Restaurant Recovery on Discovery+, in which he helped restaurants that suffered during the pandemic, and A&E’s Secret Sauce, where he talks to everyday people and celebrities like Snoop Dogg about the secrets to their success.
The secret to Graves’ own success appears to be his media savvy. He has over 500,000 followers on Instagram and frequently posts with “celebrities” ranging from Chevy Chase to Dave Portnoy to Bravo stars Madison LeCroy and Craig Conover (see why I put “celebrities” in quotes?). Graves’ claims his primary motivator for such exposure is paying it forward. For example, when COVID hit, he forewent his own salary and gave employees a collective $2 million in bonuses.
“Our culture is built on appreciation,” he said in QSR. “You just never lose that appreciation when it’s so hard to start.”
So what’s next for Graves? Maybe he’ll run for president. For better or for worse, I think the selfless billionaire archetype would garner him a good amount of support.