Seth Champion, owner of Champys Famous Fried Chicken, drove to Athens, Georgia, on Tuesday to personally see the Coming Soon signs go up on the newest Champys location deep in the heart of SEC football country.
The Chattanooga-based restaurant started on Champions personal savings and a small, nine-person staff in 2009 and has now grown into a five-restaurant brand.
Champys operates three restaurants in Alabama, one in Chattanooga and now one in Georgia. The popular M. L. King Boulevard restaurant is where it all was born.
I left the corporate world after about seven years, and decided to move over to Chattanooga and start a company, Champion said. I took every last dime that I had, 401K and everything, credit cards, and leveraged everything I had on the line to put Champys on MLK.
Champion believes the restaurant has enjoyed success because the food is cooked to order, from scratch, and when combined with the unique atmosphere and beer selection, creates an unbeatable formula.
Champions recipes are based on the Mississippi Delta fare his family cooked for years back home in Indianola, Miss., which is also the hometown of Blues legend BB King.
When I moved to Chattanooga, I really missed home, and that aspect of the food, and that culture and that soul of the place, he said. And I just created Champys so I would have something that would be similar to back home.
The ML King Boulevard restaurant alone now employs 45 people, while company-wide, Champys has about 130 employees. Champion said the five restaurants are continually hiring to keep up with demand.
While looking for the next Champys city, Champion visited towns, including Knoxville and Greenville, SC, but Athens is just a great fit, he said.
Athens is home of the University of Georgia, which has an undergraduate enrollment of 26,278, and a football stadium that seats 92,746 people -- and its less than three miles up the road from the new Champys.
Josh Collins, operator of the Athens Champys, is a native of Monticello, Georgia, about an hours drive from Athens, and he graduated from UGA in the mid-1990s. He later lived in Chattanooga for about a decade, in which time he befriended the Champions.
Now, hes excited about returning to Athens, which he has considered home since attending UGA, and taking a piece of Chattanooga with him.