If you’ve had the pleasure of eating at Sweet Chick—whether it be the Lower East Side, Williamsburg, or Prospect Heights (or Los Angeles)—you know its fried chicken is a winner.
John Seymour is the man behind the down-home hot spot. He first broke into the restaurant business with Pop’s in Williamsburg in 2007, but blew up the chicken and waffle game with the first Sweet Chick on Williamsburg’s Bedford Avenue in 2013. Seymour and company serve up some of the best of American comfort food with a Brooklyn twist. Don’t even get us started on the fried chicken Parmesan and the General (which comes with General Tso’s sauce), but even its veggie-forward rice and broccoli waffle with vegetarian chicken is delicious.
What Should We Do?! asked the native New Yorker all of our burning questions about his fried chicken and waffle empire, what it’s like being a father in New York City, and what music is currently playing inside Sweet Chick’s dining room.
What Should We Do?!: At what age did you decide you wanted to be in the restaurant business?
John Seymour: I have been around the hospitality business my whole life. I grew up helping my father at the bar he worked at after school and eventually got jobs busing/waiting tables on school holidays and summers. I started bartending in nightclubs all over New York in my 20s, and I ventured out to open my first spot—Pop’s—at 28.
WSWD: How did you come up with the concept behind Sweet Chick?
Seymour: I had always loved the cult following that chicken and waffles had, and realized no one was specializing in it in New York City. Once I started investigating, I found that chicken and waffles actually originated in Harlem, and I knew we had to do it.
WSWD: You’re a native New Yorker. What’s it like running a business in the city you grew up in?
Seymour: The benefit of opening a business in the city you grow up in is that you have the hometown support, but the feeling of running a successful restaurant in New York is unreal. The competition and rent are at the highest levels in the country.
WSWD: You’re also a family man with three kids. What’s it like being a father here?
Seymour: It was very different than it is today, but the culture that the city has to offer is still unparalleled. New York is so different from anywhere else and has its pros and cons when it comes to raising a family.
WSWD: What do you like doing with your daughters in New York City?
Seymour: I love doing what I have always done in New York…so naturally I love to hang out with the kids outside the restaurants, talking to people and seeing where the day takes us. The beauty of New York is that you don’t have to make plans; we just hang out with whomever we run into and let the day unfold.
WSWD: How does it feel knowing that your chicken and waffles have gotten a lot of hype and a lot of celebrity fans?
Seymour: It’s super-fulfilling, of course. One of the core values of Sweet Chick is to make it more than just a restaurant. I have always wanted it to be a cultural hub for people from all walks of life. It’s about creating community, and the fact that some celebrities have embraced that is amazing.
WSWD: How did Nas come into the Sweet Chick picture?
Seymour: One night the CEO of Mass Appeal, Peter Bittenbender, came into the restaurant and we started talking. He is a big fan of Sweet Chick, and we started to discuss the possibilities of what Sweet Chick could be in the future. As it turns out, Nas is one of the partners at Mass Appeal, and Peter mentioned Nas could be interested. Next thing I know, Nas and I are having dinner and watching basketball games at my house. Over the next few months, we built a friendship, and Nas really understood the core values of the brand. It was honestly one of the most organic business moves I have ever made; it just clicked.
WSWD: East Coast versus West Coast menu time. What changed between the coasts, and what’s your favorite Sweet Chick creation/dish?
Seymour: All of our core items are on both menus, so of course they are all bomb. But the West Coast has the breakfast burrito with fried chicken and it has this duck–short rib sandwich that is crack (probably have to bring that to New York soon!). One of the most requested items has got to be the frozen slushies. We only have the slushy in L.A. and people in New York are not happy about it at all.
WSWD: You just opened up your fourth location in Prospect Heights. How has it been growing Sweet Chick since its inception?
Seymour: I’m honestly blown away with the response. The first week [in Prospect Heights] had hour-long waits to get in for brunch and dinner. The support for what we are doing is unreal. It’s always a little nerve-wracking opening a new location, but it’s humbling to see the different communities come out to support us and just be genuinely happy to have us.
WSWD: You partnered with the Tupac Foundation to re-create Tupac’s Powamekka Café at Sweet Chick on the Lower East Side. Do you have plans to revive this pop-up?
Seymour: That was amazing. We don’t want to force anything, but I will say his family has been to the L.A. location a few times and they love it. I am honored to have worked with them on the project and am so happy that it was done the right way.
WSWD: What’s currently on the playlist at Sweet Chick?
Seymour: Coloring Book, Frank Ocean, Solange, Stevie Wonder, Francis & Lights, Lost Tapes, Illmatic, 4:44, Asap 12vy, Sampha, Action Bronson, Avalanches, Joey Badass, Nyck & Knight, Khalid, Nina Simone, Cymande, Anderson Paak, and basically anything dope. Oh, yeah, it’s mandatory to play Biggie’s “Juicy” once a night.
WSWD: What’s next for Sweet Chick?
Seymour: We have so many opportunities and I want to make the right decisions. Right now, I’m just weighing the options and making sure we continue to provide the best to our guests and keep building relationships within our community.
Live your best life, John Seymour–style.