Restaurants

Destination-worthy fried chicken joint Nan’s Market will expand to Southborough

The chef-led and farm-driven concept is heading for a one-time Wendy’s.

Nans fried chicken by Joy Leduc
The fried chicken at Nan's Kitchen & Market in Stow is worth traveling for—but it's coming closer to Boston. Joy LeDuc

The only drive-through in Southborough will soon be serving up a new kind of fast food: Nan’s Kitchen & Market, a Stow favorite for fried chicken and vegetable sides, will open its second location this summer in a former Wendy’s.

By the time the second Nan’s opens, the Route 9 restaurant won’t resemble the home of the Frosty; the team is renovating it to look like a “farmhouse cottage,” and even plans to add window boxes growing herbs and kale. But the location aligns perfectly with Nan’s mission: To elevate fast-food fried chicken with healthy, farm-fresh ingredients and side dishes, according to chef and co-founder Jordan Mackey.

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Along with the signature fried chicken, which coats antibiotic- and hormone-free poultry in a seasoned semolina crust, Nan’s prepares flank steak and salmon. There’s a daily range of accompaniments, both traditional and not: Buttery black-pepper biscuits are popular, and grains and vegetables come from around New England to create sides like Maine Grains farro tossed with butternut squash and candied orange; organic kale dressed in a lemon-horseradish vinaigrette with shaved manchego cheese; and slow-roasted chioggia beets splashed with tomato-harissa vinaigrette. 

Lunch offers chicken sandwiches and other creative stacks, along with salads and grain bowls; and breakfast options include biscuits and gravy, egg sandwiches, and grab-and-go cups of overnight oats and yogurt parfaits. 

It also has coffee bar serving espresso drinks made with Massachusetts-roasted beans, and sells sundries like locally produced hot sauces, spice blends, and coffee beans. The Stow location sells craft beer and organic wines by the bottle, and Mackey will pursue a retail liquor license for the Southborough location, too.

Nan’s is partnering with Boston Food Hub, a network of local farms which purchased a farm last year in Acton, to source farm-fresh produce for its menus. The original Stow location is Nan’s headquarters, with raised beds on the 2 ½-acre property they’ll use to drive home to employees the value of farm-grown ingredients.

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“We’re really following in the footsteps of companies like Sweetgreen and Dig Inn and B.Good,” which have proven “fast food doesn’t have to be s*** food,” Mackey said.

The majority of quick-service restaurants that reach the suburbs are not those trendier, health-conscious concepts. That doesn’t mean people who live outside of cities don’t want better fast-food options, Mackey said.

A spread at Nan's Kitchen & Market.
A spread at Nan’s Kitchen & Market. – Joy LeDuc

“Suburban needs for food are really changing,” said Mackey, a longtime fine-dining chef with experience in high-end hotels who also runs Sudbury’s Sobre Mesa taqueria. “Where we used to have tons of square footage and host people at tables [in our restaurants], now people need food on their own table a lot more often than they need it on mine.”

This has been the trend for years, even before the COVID-19 pandemic irrevocably changed dining out.

“To say the [restaurant] industry’s in an existential crisis is an understatement,” Mackey said. 

Overhead costs like labor, insurance, real estate, and food have increased over the past 20 years, but the price of entrees really hasn’t. “I got the menus that I saved in my scrapbook to prove it: We were charging $28 for a steak in 1997.” Serving dinner to the public used to be a good living, he said, but these days, chefs need to have multiple restaurants to make those same margins — or provide options for every meal of the day, like Nan’s.

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That’s why Mackey and his wife, Reanna, had a business plan mapped out even before the pandemic struck.

“I met my wife in the South, and fried chicken was always a part of life,” he said. “When we moved back up to New England, we always wanted to do a fried chicken concept where everything was good, not just the chicken.”

The Mackeys dusted off their business plan in May 2020 after the pandemic shuttered their full-service restaurant, 29 Rustic.

“It was just a strategy to keep the staff working,” Mackey explained, but “it seemed to do a lot better.” 

Nan’s has been so successful that the Southborough expansion is only the beginning, Mackey said. The concept is replicable, he said, and the goal is to be “like a Boston Market for Generation Z.”

The Southborough location, headed for 359 Turnpike Road (Route 9), will offer a similar mix of prepared-to-order and grab-and-go food, plus oven-ready platters for holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. The drive-through — situated just off the exit lane for I-495 North — will be used for curbside pick-up orders.

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