Okay, so as I’m sure any Louisvillian knows by now KFC is testing its new KFC Eleven store right here in the Derby City. The store stands in the perfect “test” location, at the intersection of Bardstown Road and Baxter Avenue in the Highlands. KFC created a big buzz for the pilot location, so I set my sights on paying a visit this week for grand opening.
My week started with two failed attempts to get east of NuLu: car starter went out while in route (at that one “rowdy” gas station on East Broadway) Tuesday, then I woke up Wednesday morning to a tire flatter than Donald Trump’s comb-over. I finally zigzagged east of downtown Louisville and crawled down Bardstown Road congestion on Thursday. I pulled into a parking spot, hopped out of my car, and jumped up and down. “Finally!”
I rushed into the renovated corner building, right into a line of what looked like 20-or-so people. Okay, it’s 12:30 — lunch rush — so I expected a long line, especially for a highly publicized test store. I took the standing-in-line time to look around.
My eyes dropped to the floor — a concrete slab. Okay, the concrete slab look is in style. The floor was clean and, most importantly, not sticky. Next, I noticed the large, tinted windows surrounding the dining area. The seating is compact, limited, and sectioned off, but a mixture of tables with free-standing chairs and tall tables by the windows with taller chairs. I looked past the crowds of faces to what was on the tables. The food didn’t appear as fried, lips weren’t so shiny from grease and the dishes people ate on were several notches above paper bags, bowls and boxes. What is that lady eating? Is that rice? Hmm.
The line quickly moved a couple of feet — a good sign of employees doing their job. I looked up and admired the high ceilings. The ceilings were lime green with a factory/loft feel. I found the openness more appealing than the low, drop-ceilinged look KFC has been boasting since the Colonel was in charge. I noted a conspicuous lack of red. Sure, there is red on the outside of the building, but KFC Eleven’s color scheme consists of more earthy tones: an off-white, several greens, and light and dark browns.
I took in the more-urban look KFC Eleven has as the line inched toward the counter. Once the menu-board was in sight, I studied the new meal and sides options. The prices were definitely a little higher than those of KFC, but from what I’d seen on tables, there is more bang for your buck, both in the quality of the food and the overall sit-down atmosphere.
While KFC Eleven definitely does not offer as many items as KFC, the options it does offer, by name anyway, sound healthier and more sophisticated: Sweet Orange Ginger Rice Bowl, BBQ Bacon Ranch Flatbread, Waffle Fries, Crunchy Coleslaw, Boneless Chicken, Southwestern Baja, Caribbean Tango. There were more salad options, flat-breads, vegetable dishes and rice. Yes, the chicken meals are still present, but what would KFC be without chicken?
Now it was my time to order. I looked at the menu one more time. I wanted something safe, but also something new. I rubbed my stomach and ordered a Two-Piece Chicken Meal and a BBQ Bacon Ranch Salad.
What are they doing behind this glass-wall thing?
I peer over the wall between the counter and line and actually witnessed — at a fast-food place, mind you — food being prepared, much like the set-up at Subway or Qdoba. A kitchen still hustles and bustles in the background, with workers accommodating drive-thru customers. Every fast-food restaurant in America has to have a drive-thru, doesn't it?
I received my food — on real dishes — scanned the lobby for a seat, and plopped down into a bar-stool at a table by a window. I sensed something standing behind me and turned to find a tall, dotted statue of a thin chicken. A worker zipped around the dining area, wiping tables, stocking condiments and sweeping the floor. I nodded and picked up my fork. I think I'm going to like this.
I cut my salad, marinated it in salad dressing, shoveled a chunk into my mouth and smiled. I love this. The bacon, lettuce, and tomatoes appeared to be relatively fresh. Plus, the pieces of barbecued chicken spread in my salad were just the right flavor, and definitely not microwaved. I moved on to the two-piece chicken meal — not as greasy as what I was used to from KFC, but still the “potatoes” of the operation I'm sure. I watched the stop-and-go traffic of Bardstown Road as more people walked through the doors and jumped in line to get what probably will not be their last fix of KFC Eleven.
I personally think KFC Eleven should go from being a pilot or test store to a complete nationwide rebranding of KFC. KFC Eleven would make a great fit for downtown and urban areas like Bardstown Road. The KFC we’ve known for ages could phase out, or at very least only have locations near highway exits or in rural areas. I like KFC, especially the coleslaw and the crunchiness of its chicken. However, let’s face the facts: KFC is a little tired.