By Veronica Perry, reporter
⏰ 6-minute read
Sacramento residents have lined up for nearly two years to enjoy HauteBird’s brined, breaded, sauced chicken served in handmade waffle cones from pop-up events citywide.
Though shuttered due to the new coronavirus, HauteBird continues to communicate with customers and plan for a future of brick-and-mortars.
The company hires exclusively through a local social services organization that continues to give back in a challenging time.
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Misty Alafranji, a Brooklyn-born chef with more than 12 years’ experience, is the heart and soul of HauteBird. The pop-up restaurant serves a creative take on chicken and waffles with a global soul food vibe while improving lives in the Sacramento, Calif., neighborhood of Oak Park.
Alafranji’s business -- which usually serves its famous fried chicken cones at weekly events -- has paused its gatherings indefinitely as the effects of the new coronavirus force many U.S. restaurants to shutter or become delivery or pickup only.
As HauteBird sits tight in this uncertain time, we look back at evidence of its resiliencey to date.
Misty Alfranji, the unstoppable founder of HauteBird (credit: @makingmycity)
Once a week, typically on Saturdays, Alafranji and her crew set up a kitchen under a ten-by-ten tent to serve their creative spins on fried chicken. She says the Sacramento community has been incredibly welcoming in offering locations at which to sell, from the local Tap House to parks.
“We are blessed to be invited for every pop-up we’ve done,” Alafranji said. “We believe that is due to the relationship we’ve cultivated and actively staying connected to and supporting the community.”
Since the pop-up concept launched in October 2018, HauteBird’s sales have tripled, and its social media presence has grown organically from fewer than 100 followers to over 6,000. A typical week sees 75% growth in followers, Alafranji said.
That growth is paused for now due to the virus, but that doesn’t mean Alafranji has stopped chatting with her existing customers.
Like many businesses experiencing the consequences of the pandemic, Alafranji notified her loyal customers immediately via Instagram of HauteBird’s pause in service.
HauteBird's famous fried-chicken cones (credit:@sacfoodandbooze)
A timely mission
HauteBird’s mission is especially relevant to the city-level challenges that come with the new coronavirus.
Alafranji, along with her husband and business partner, launched the brand after meeting Loren and Rachelle Ditmore, who for nearly two decades have run an Oak Park nonprofit called City of Refuge Sacramento. Along with an extensive network of partners, City of Refuge provides emergency and transitional housing; a range of counseling and recovery services; and personal development classes for women, children, at-risk youth and young adults.
HauteBird is an LLC set up as a social enterprise -- that is, a business that has specific social objectives, where profits are largely used to fund programs. Learn more about the California social enterprise landscape.
In late 2017, when the Alafranjis were developing the concept for HauteBird, they felt like something was missing. They wanted their enterprise to be more than just an eatery. Misty said that meeting the Ditmores and learning about their work was a moment of synchronicity.
The Alafranjis “were invited last-minute -- the day of -- to their fundraiser, and it was there, while listening to a young woman tell her story of being trafficked and her recovery and connection to City of Refuge, that I truly had a divine moment,” she said.
Right then, she decided to open HauteBird in Oak Park and partner with City of Refuge.
“It was a very emotional and joyful moment for me,” Misty said. “I disruptively leaned over to my husband and told him, and he said ‘I’m all in.’”
That was in late 2017. Since then, the Alafranjis have worked with City of Refuge to employ some of the most vulnerable people in the Sacramento area. Besides learning about the food service industry, the partnership includes mentorships to teach financial budgeting and planning, along with other life skills.
Like HauteBird’s, City of Refuge’s day-to-day operations have been affected due to school closures and city mandates around the new coronavirus, Alafranji said. Unlike the pop-up, City of Refuge is still able to continue its housing program for women and children during this challenging time.
HauteBird is a social enterprise in partnership with City of Refuge Sacramento. (credit: @elyjiahwilburvideo)
Chicken with a side of purpose
Even in non-crisis, working with at-risk individuals does present unique challenges that City of Refuge has stepped up to help HauteBird address. Alafranji implements two key best practices:
Using trauma-Informed communication when working with survivors of addiction or any type of abuse, whether physical, mental or emotional.
Knowing that each individual, and their experiences, are different.
“Every person has a unique experience,” she said. “City of Refuge offers us training on trauma-informed communication and gives us every resource we need to be as skilled as possible as we move forward.”
The aim, both in the past and for the future, is to use HauteBird’s allure to bring commerce to Sacramento’s Oak Park and Midtown neighborhoods while strengthening community bonds, providing a path out of homelessness and bringing people from all walks of life together to enjoy a meal.
“We want to help these individuals by not only giving them an opportunity for employment but also to see themselves rise even higher through the job training/mentorship program we will offer at our upcoming restaurant," Alafranji said.
“We want to help these individuals by not only giving them an opportunity for employment but also to see themselves rise even higher through the job training/mentorship program we will offer at our upcoming restaurant."
She’s speaking of the first of two planned fine-casual, brick-and-mortar locations that will feature foods from staffs’ childhoods, reflecting a variety of ethnicities from Cajun to Sicilian to Dominican, along with HauteBird’s trademark chicken and waffles. Adding to the multicultural flavor, the Alafranjis’ family roots spread across the southern Gulf Coast to Chicago and Brooklyn.
Operationally, Misty’s husband Nicholas handles the financial side of the business while she manages day-to-day bookings and social media presence and preps all of the food for the restaurant.
“And that’s a whole lotta chicken, folks!” she said.
HauteBird plans to sell its fries, chicken and more at a brick-and-mortar in the coming year.
A balancing act
Even though HauteBird has both hard working employees and significant community support, Misty’s biggest hurdle in growing the business is finding the time to make it all happen. HauteBird is currently staffed only when the pop-up is open to the public, and balancing the competing demands of motherhood, marriage and running a business can be a challenge.
“Like a lot of women, juggling the many hats I wear is tough,” said Alafranji. “Finding the time to get everything done for the business, making my family a priority daily and somehow carving out time to exercise and self-care is a challenge to say the least. But it’s all worth it at the end of the day.”
She copes with that feeling -- familiar to entrepreneurs -- of being stretched thin and needing more time by prioritizing and tackling tasks one at a time.
Feeling overwhelmed as a founder? These time management strategies can help you prioritize in challenging times.
Dreaming of batter days
Restaurants in the Sacramento area remain closed for the foreseeable future as the new coronavirus continues to upend the business climate. But HauteBird has big plans to resurge. Its flagship restaurant will be located in a 17,000-square-foot building that City of Refuge expected to break ground on this spring. However, given the current health crisis, these plans may be delayed.
Besides the restaurant, the space will offer permanent housing and a childcare facility for kids who have experienced trauma.
HauteBird has big plans to resurge by opening a flagship restaurant in a 17,000-square-foot building this spring.
The Alafranjis are also working with a local developer on plans to open a smaller space in Midtown Sacramento.
Eventually, Alafranji expects to operate all three HauteBird locations in collaboration with other local businesses, such as breweries and local farms. The goal: Use her culinary skills to bring people together from all walks of life and support community events that bring awareness to issues such as housing insecurity and human trafficking.
In a world of uncertainty, that’s the finger-lickin’ good vision we need right now.