Winner Winner Chicken Dinner: The Story of 24 Chicken

From opening small stalls near colleges to multiple branches across the Metro, the Korean chicken brand 24 Chicken has grown into an empire.

Without a doubt, the Philippines has been hit by the Korean wave. From Korean pop songs, dramas, and idol groups making their rounds among Filipinos—both young and old alike—it also makes sense for Korean food to fit into their orbit.

While Korean food in itself is diverse, a top-of-mind choice includes Korean chicken. Crispy, meaty, and coated in a glaze, Korean chicken grew in popularity because of its frequent appearance in many K-drama series (usually paired with soju or beer). But beyond that, its affordability, accessibility, and delicious taste have made it a cult favorite.

However, Korean chicken in its truest form is oftentimes spicy and fiery hot. And not many people can handle that here in the country. This, along with how versatile chicken can be, is the reason why Korean chicken has been reinvented in ways that suit the local palate—resulting in many different flavors and brands all across the Metro like Jack Daniels, Snow Cheese, and even a not-spicy lemon glazed variant.

One example includes 24 Chicken. One of the few local shops that pioneered Korean chicken here in the country, the brand was established in the year 2017 by three friends. “It started when my partners, Jeff Sy and Jefferson Uy, and I visited South Korea for vacation,” shares Mark Ong, the president of 24 Chicken. We saw how Korean fried chicken was widely available to everyone in South Korea. It was affordable, delicious, and best shared with friends and family.”

The Three Wingmen: Mark Ong, Jeff Sy, and Jefferson Uy

From Chick to Big-time Chicken

Before becoming a staple among Korean fans and foodies, 24 Chicken first started out as a small stall—a hole-in-the-wall joint, primarily within the Manila area. Situated near colleges like De La Salle University and the University of Santo Tomas, the local chicken shop mostly catered to students, since it promised affordable prices and generous servings.

While it remains more of a takeout spot (as the first few branches had very limited seating), 24 Chicken has amassed a loyal fanbase. From becoming a quick meal for students, its offerings have satisfied the cravings of a wider market, such as office workers, families, and foodies aplenty.

“We saw that the Filipino people were not given the best choice of Korean fried chicken in the market,” explains Ong. “We saw that it was either very expensive to eat authentic good Korean fried chicken or it could be cheap, but the quality was also not that good and we wanted to change that.”

In order to cater to even more people, there was nowhere else for them to go but up. To date, the brand now has 33 branches—not just within Metro Manila, but also in other parts of the country, like Pampanga, Tacloban, Cebu, and Davao.

But what is the secret to their success? “I think it is our quality and value for money,” he opines. “Before 24 Chicken, you will have a hard time looking for affordable and authentic Korean fried chicken. Our business strategy is to never cut costs and to never be stingy with our ingredients.”

KFC: Korean Fried Chicken

The food industry is a very competitive playing field, and even more so for Korean chicken brands. With many new players entering the market, 24 Chicken needs to stand out and remain relevant in the hearts and stomachs of Filipinos everywhere. To do so, the brand lets its chicken speak for itself.

“We make sure that all dishes are innovative,” Ong explains. “The process of making all our sauces takes a lot of time and effort—one that simply cannot be made in a home kitchen. [As for] our bestsellers, it’s the Jack Daniels (non-alcoholic) and Yangneyeom (the go-to sauce for Koreans).”

Fan favorites include the sweet, savory, and flavorful Jack Daniels, as well as the well-loved sweet and spicy Yangnyeom in different iterations—the classic, with Garlic, or the incredibly spicy 2x. Meanwhile, other offerings include the straightforward, un-glazed Original Chicken, Lemon-glazed Chicken, and the 24 Cheddar, which features a coating of cheesy powder atop fried chicken.

For all these, the food establishment prides itself on using ingredients that are sourced from Korea and parts of Asia in order to create its signature sauces. This—paired with good quality chicken meat that is bigger and softer than most run-of-the-mill meat offerings—has made the brand consistently in demand.

In fact, the owner discloses the secret as to why their chicken remains crispy, even during delivery: soya oil, as it locks in the chicken’s crispy texture and flavor. This, along with its brand ethos of affordability and good quality has kept them relevant despite the growing competition and the pandemic.

From Jack Daniels to Yangnyeom, Lemon Chicken, 24 Cheddar, and Original, 24 Chicken’s delicious portfolio is as diverse as it gets!

On Adapting and Learning From the Pandemic

The pandemic spared no one, even 24 Chicken. If anything, the local chicken shop thrived while most folded under pressure, thanks to the business model that they had in place. “As a delivery-first restaurant, the pandemic style of ordering fits us quite well,” Ong says.

In fact, being available on third-party apps like Grab and FoodPanda, as well as Grab’s cloud kitchen has greatly benefited them.

“[However], the biggest challenge we experienced was how we can guarantee the safety of our staff,” he explains. In fact, Ong shared that they had strict standard health and safety protocols in place, and were prepared to close during emergencies. What’s more, financial aid was offered as needed, and their staff were given the option not to work if they felt unsafe or unwell.

Thankfully, the world soon opened up to a “new normal” as cases have declined over the years. Looking back, Ong credits their very foundation as the glue that kept the business afloat. “For us, it was [all about] serving consistent good quality fried chicken. Even if you have the best marketing strategy or the best recovery plan, if the product that you serve is not good, recovery would be very hard to achieve,” he says.

As for 24 Chicken’s secret to success? “Being consistent, and always listening to the customers.”

The brand’s takeout and delivery business model has kept them afloat during the pandemic.

Future Plans and Wise Words of Advice

The world may have opened up to a “new normal” with cases declining over the years, but a full recovery from the pandemic is still uncertain. While there are many things to learn from the two years, it too comes with many opportunities for businesses to explore.

And this includes keeping their delivery and takeout system. “I think, as we were not able to meet people in person for almost 2 years, Social gatherings in the home are a thing right now and 24 Chicken is the best companion for gatherings,” reveals Ong, adding that aside from offering big portions of their chicken for sharing, they’ve begun accommodating large orders for parties and special occasions.

With big orders, a bigger customer fanbase, and even bigger dreams, the future looks bright for 24 Chicken. In fact, chicken fans can expect, in Ong’s words, “more branches outside Metro Manila.”

24 Chicken may have started out small, but with the right effort, dedication, and a team to keep going even when it’s tough, it has grown into a well-loved Korean chicken empire. And for entrepreneurs who wish the same for their small businesses, Ong has one thing to say: “Provide your customers with the best service or quality as much as possible. Try not to open a business just to earn a quick buck.”