A rendering of Chicken N Pickle's new prototype.

Chicken N Pickle's new prototype showcases the brand's reverence for community and farm-to-table sourcing. 

Chicken N Pickle Crafts Prototype Fit for Community and Sustainability

The company wants to reach more than 20 locations in the next two years. 

Populous, a global design firm with an Americas headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri, has played a part in some of the most iconic venues in the U.S., including Yankee Stadium, the Olympics, the Super Bowl, Camden Yards (home of the Baltimore Orioles), and Climate Pledge Arena (home of the Seattle Kraken and Seattle Storm).

The scale is massive, but as Populous principal Mason Paoli explains, the company is not so much focused on the size of the project as it is creating a unique environment. So when the opportunity came up to design a new prototype for the Kansas City, Missouri-based Chicken N Pickle—a young and growing community gathering spot for pickleball players and more—the partnership felt natural, especially given Populous’ focus on architecture, sports, and entertainment.

“It may seem a little funny, but at the same time, we specialize in the experience,” Paoli says. “And so the experience is not necessarily always on a grand scale, the experience is more intimate. And so I feel like between our storytelling, how we like to get to know a brand, and also just the way that we think about how a person can use their space, that is the reason why this project is extremely exciting to us. Not only because it's just a really interesting concept and a really wonderful experience at Chicken N Pickle, but also, it just fits right in with what we do every day here at Populous.”

Founded in 2016, Chicken N Pickle outlets boast as many as 12 pickleball courts, large spaces for performances and picnic staging, a sports bar, private dining sections, and a scratch kitchen.

The concept operates six locations in multiple states, including North Kansas City, Missouri; Wichita and Overland Park, Kansas; Oklahoma City; and San Antonio, Texas. Another three—Grapevine, Texas; St. Charles, Missouri; and Glendale, Arizona—are scheduled to open in either late 2022 or early 2023.

Out of those upcoming destinations, the unit in St. Charles, Missouri, will be the first to showcase Populous’ new prototype. Bill Crooks, chief experience officer for Chicken N Pickle, describes the updated design as a visual manifestation of the brand’s commitment to community and farm-to-table offerings. The venue is reminiscent of a town square, with activities positioned around a central, tree-lined courtyard. The versatile center space could be used for live music, watch parties, ice skating, or other events. In addition to this open yard are six indoor and four outdoor pickleball courts and a micro-kitchen with an outdoor grill.

“I think from an aesthetic standpoint, this prototype kind of reflects what we do and how we do it,” Crooks says. "In my past life, we've been involved with the farm-to-table movement for almost 30 years now and a lot of what we do is we work with a lot of local producers. So when we say our hearts are local, we really mean it.”


Chicken N Pickle sources hormone-free proteins and a lot of its fruits and vegetables from nearby farms. The menu features chicken (served with a flour tortilla, avocado, and serrano pepper), a chicken+rib combo, bowls, sandwiches, salads, and “munchies” like wings and a chicken quesadilla. The restaurant developed its own seasoning blends and doesn’t freeze anything except for sweet potato fries and tater tots. In Texas, Chicken N Pickle uses akaushi— a Japanese red Wagyu breed of beef cattle—from a producer in Austin, and in Missouri, the chain uses grass-feed beef from a Good Natured Family Farms producer in Fort Scott, Kansas.

In terms of community, Chicken N Pickle started its own nonprofit, Our Hearts Are Local, and hosts other 501(c)(3) companies almost every day to assist with fundraising efforts. The concept also runs a Green Cup Campaign, with proceeds going to charity, and helped more than 100 small family farms set up distribution across Kansas and Missouri.

The burgeoning legacy is what originally attracted Populous to the project.  

“What I think I get up in the morning for is getting to know new clients, learning their story, their passion, what caused them to start up. … So not losing the spirit of the concept, which is what made it so successful, but also adding elements that add a layer of sophistication," says Paoli, describing Populous' approach to formulating a new design.Trying to tell more of the story about the farm to table by using some barn vernacular, but modern barn vernacular. Tying it back to the spirit of why they started and why the product is so good.”

The prototype is structured so that it can flex up or down into a variety of spaces. Typically, Chicken N Pickle fits into about 1.75 acres, but could potentially downsize to 1.25 or 1 acre. Crooks estimates the cost of building the new design is about the same. In addition to the three sites scheduled to open, the team has identified at least another four or five sites for potential expansion. The hope is to increase the pace from one to two openings per year to three to five and reach more than 20 locations in the next two years.

Chicken N Pickle taps into one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. Pickleball participation has experienced an average annual growth rate of 11.5 percent in the past five years, according to the 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) Single Sport Report, with 4.8 million players in 2021. The sport is primarily associated with older generations that step down from competitive tennis, but Crooks notes that he’s personally seen growth in youth and the 25-35-year-old demographic.

But Chicken N Pickle is more than just pickleball. The social entertainment center offers several activities, such as running, yoga, luaus, and wine tastings. Crooks calls the concept a “chameleon that can morph into whatever we want it to be on any given day.” The company hopes that message comes across even stronger once the new prototype rolls out.

“People smile when they come in the door, and it's sort of a respite from acrimony in today's society is,” Crooks says. “There's not a lot of politics. You don't see a lot of kids on smart devices, you see them interacting with their parents and their friends and having fun and that's part of the reason it's so engaging I think.”