By Wil Crews
Opelika Observer

Everyone loves food. And while it may be beneficial to our waistlines, a new socially-distanced normal has left consumer cravings untamed.

But aside from the convenience of takeout and the insatiable sound of rumbling in our bellies, the effects of COVID-19 have left many restaurants vulnerable, limiting the amount of customers they can serve and negatively impacting profit, leaving the U.S food industry in unfamiliar territory.

To pivot the industry from the brink of crisis and to restore the thriving gathering places that diners know and love, it is going to take an inventive and conscientious approach.

Luckily, QSR Magazine recently published an article titled “15 Young Restaurant Leaders to Watch,” that highlighted 15 foodservice leaders with the ingenuity and dedication to move the industry forward.

In fact, one of the recognized leaders is proud Opelika community member and Director of Marketing for Chicken Salad Chick, Ali Rauch.

“[Opelika] is my home,” said Rauch. “I grew up in the Midwest… but Opelika is my love and I am going to be here forever.”  

Rauch, 33, started with Chicken Salad Chick in 2012, joining the team when it had just five restaurants. Now there are 160, and Rauch is the longest tenured employee apart from founder Stacy Brown.

Rauch has been instrumental in developing the company’s online platform –– and loyalty program that goes with it –– along with launching delivery options and growing the chain’s promotions and brand.

All totaled, the loyalty platform grew to 15% of brand sales, and the company saw a 23% increase in average daily sales in 2018.

“I really have been able to build everything from the ground up from a marketing perspective,” said Rauch.

Well, she’s built it well. Satisfied customers and QSR Magazine have noticed.

This year the company ran a promotion for teacher appreciation day. One teacher per location, around the country, received free chicken salad for a year.

They also do a huge Mother’s Day celebration each year along with a guest appreciation day every January, where free scoops of chicken salad are given out like Moonpies at a Mardi Gras parade (no they don’t throw them at customers).

“It’s all just a way to celebrate and reward our loyal guests,” said Rauch. “Because people who love Chicken Salad Chick, LOVE Chicken Salad Chick. What better way to say thank you?”

Quite frankly, customers could be thanking Rauch. Her handprint is on many, if not all the promotions that Chicken Salad Chick runs.

Nevertheless, Rauch humbly accepts the acknowledgment from QSR.

“I’m very thankful to be included,” said Rauch. “I’ve been working really hard at ‘the Chick,’ and I have poured my heart and soul into it for the last eight years, so to be recognized for that is very gratifying.”

All this success does not come easy however; don’t let the fancy, fruity and alliteration-filled chicken salad names fool you.

It took collaboration and resilience to take Chicken Salad Chick from an at-home kitchen  to locations in 17 states from Florida to Illinois.

Just recently, Rauch and Chicken Salad Chick’s resilience was tested facing possibly their biggest obstacle yet –– COVID-19.

Rauch and her team immediately began thinking of new ideas. By launching delivery, curbside pickup and capitalizing on the fresh-made bulk order “Quick Chicks,” that can be taken home and kept in the fridge, Chicken Salad Chick still managed to serve their customers.

“The first two weeks when COVID-19 hit, I had never worked harder,” said Rauch.

But the work paid off. The company was able to keep workers employed and still managed to drive sales. For that, Rauch is due credit.

According to, in 2019 Chicken Salad Chick ranked 215th in the top grossing chains in the U.S.

To some who may think that number is low, perhaps reconsider –– the business only started in 2008 and just announced their 16th consecutive quarter of same-store sales growth in February 2020.

Additionally, their ranking bested those of other popular restaurants such as Taziki’s Mediterranean Café, BurgerFi and Cook-Out.

As far as Chicken Salad Chick’s potential, Rauch is not reticent about her aspirations.

“I think we’re the next Chick-Fil-A,” said Rauch. “We put such a heavy emphasis on having a great quality product and the experience you get at Chicken Salad Chick is unlike anywhere else.”

She may work for a chicken restaurant but Rauch is not afraid of a challenge.

Her personal mantra is to stay positive, work hard and make it happen.

“You got to power through things, and if you do those things with a positive attitude and focus on working hard, you can do anything,” she said. 

That said, what does Rauch think of her own potential?

“I’ve learned so much at Chicken Salad Chick, I just want to be proud of what I have accomplished,” said Rauch. “I think the opportunities are there and I don’t know, the sky is the limit.”

Regardless of where her opportunities take her, Rauch carries with her the prestige of a marketing expert.

Her [expert] advice for someone starting a business in the food industry: make sure people know who you are.

“Making sure that your address, hours, phone number, how and where to order is accurate on everywhere that’s out there,” said Rauch.

Secondly, Rauch says you have to be honest with yourself. “If the product is good, then it will sell itself,” she added.

Well, Chicken Salad Chick is good. And so is Rauch. The recognition is well deserved.

Ali Rauch serves as the Director of Marketing for Chicken Salad Chick. She earned her Associate’s Degree in Communication from Lake Land College. She also earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Public Relations, Summa Cum Laude, from Southern Illinois University. Rauch and her husband Todd have lived in Opelika since 2009 and enjoy spending time with their dog Forrest.

Rauch’s go-to Chicken Salad Chick order: A trio. Fancy Nancy (their best-seller named America’s best chicken salad by Southern Living) with broccoli salad and grape salad. “But sometimes I just need some mac and cheese.”