A casual eatery built on the solid foundation of a classic Long Island-borne chicken joint recently celebrated its first anniversary cooped up in Massapequa.
Naked Chicken Co. (7 Hicksville Rd. in Massapequa), a new incarnation of the venerable Pudgie’s Famous Chicken franchise originating in Bethpage in the 1980s, experienced highs and lows during its first full year in operation. Gary Occhiogrosso, president and CDO of Trufoods, LLC, owner of the Pudgie’s trademark, said the company learned a lot about how to meet customers’ needs—at the Massapequa location and, potentially, in future franchise locations throughout the island and beyond.
“The Massapequa location was built as a prototype,” said Occhiogrosso. “We learned a lot, tweaked a few things and we’ve done things to give customers what they want. For instance, when we first opened we were using peanut oil, but customers were concerned with peanut allergies so we switched to a trans fat-free vegetable oil.”
Getting to know the customers’ needs is an ongoing process, said Occhiogrosso, and a difficult one at that. But what surprised him the most during the first year, is how long it has taken customers to accept Naked Chicken as a new brand with a new menu—rather than as the Pudgie’s of the past.
Occhiogrosso said Naked Chicken only retains the Pudgie’s name in the logo, but in every other aspect it is a far different approach to casual dining. The “naked” concept refers to the reimagined brand’s commitment to using fresh, never frozen chicken without steroids or antibiotics. The new Pudgie’s also fries its chicken in updated pressure fryers, which cook the product faster and allows for less oil absorption—Occhiogrosso said this results in a better overall product.
“A lot of folks still hang onto the old idea of what Pudgie’s was, that surprised me the most,” he said. “The bulk of what we sell is grilled chicken and salads. We’re not a fast food chicken joint. All of our produce comes from the North Fork of Long Island and the chicken comes from a family farm in West Virginia, raised steroid free with no added hormones.”
Naked Chicken also boasts a growing variety of specialty sauces for its wings. At last month’s Long Island Best Wings Festival, Naked Chicken received rave reviews for its unique blueberry barbecue sauce. Since opening, Naked Chicken now offers more than a dozen varieties, from blueberry to ghost pepper. The eatery also plans to add limited time offers to its menu, such as chicken tacos, chicken sausage and peppers, and chicken philly cheesesteak.
Concocting new wing sauces and adding new menu items is all part of the process of building a relationship with customers, said Occhiogrosso. But one of the pillars of customer relations starts with the design concept of the store itself. Occhiogrosso said he takes pride in the minimalistic design of Naked Chicken, as well as the cleanliness it has maintained.
“We wanted it to be a big, clean open space,” he said. “When a restaurant is cluttered, you feel full before you even eat. We didn’t want people to feel weighted down when they walked in.”
Through all the highs and lows of year one, Naked Chicken’s main goal—to get people to cross the road to try its chicken—has remained unchanged.
“For anyone who hasn’t tried it yet, come on in. And if you tried it and it didn’t meet your expectations, give it another try. We are constantly improving and working to give the people what they want,” he said. “If it has to do with chicken, then it’s Naked Chicken—whether it’s fried, grilled, wings or strips.”