Downtown Winter Garden offers a variety of food options, but there was one restaurant Michael and Alison Scorsone thought was missing — a chicken joint.
There now is a restaurant dedicated solely to chicken made the Nashville way — with plenty of spices and multiple levels of hot. The Scorsones held a “flash opening” of Fat Mike’s Hot Chicken last week in space next to City Hall vacated by 4 Locos Tacos.
They signed the lease March 1 and had not expected to open this soon, but the coronavirus changed their plans.
The couple owns two other downtown eateries — Michael Ali’s Coal Fired Pizza and MAC’d Out, both in the Plant Street Market. When the pandemic struck and restaurants were forced to halt their dine-in service, the Scorsones had to lay off about half of their employees.
“People were coming to me and saying, ‘We can’t get unemployment, and we can’t get work,’” Michael Scorsone said. “These people are my family.”
To help these former employees, the Scorsones opened Fat Mike’s in less than three weeks and rehired many of them to staff the restaurant.
Prior to opening, the Scorsones were trying to come up with a name.
“We (needed) to come up with something that sticks in your head,” Michael Scorsone said. “I said, ‘Why don’t we call it Fat Mike’s? You’re always telling me I need to lose weight,’” he said he told his wife. “If you can’t pick on yourself … .”
The Nashville Hot Chicken concept has a long history in Tennessee, he said. It is a Southern fried chicken that is cooked and then given a spicy wet bath. Diners can order their chicken Naked, Southern style with no hint of heat; Medium, feelin’ the heat; Hot, lovin’ the heat; or Crazy Al, described as “stupid hot & tasty — eat at own risk.”
For now, the menu offers the basics until businesses can once again operate without coronavirus regulations. Chicken tenders, chicken sandwiches and quarter-chicken plates are available, and there are a variety of drinks and side dishes such as natural cut French fries, mashed potatoes with white gravy, Mama’s pasta salad or Fat Mike’s cole slaw. Beer and wine will be added to the menu in the future.
“What it will be is, basically, a hot chicken joint,” Michael Scorsone said. “If you want a burger, or to get pizza, there are places in downtown. If you want chicken, come see me.”
The owners said they will plan an official grand opening at a later date and will be hiring more employees.
“Getting our work family back on the job and generating an income to feed their families has been a real focus for my wife and me,” Michael Scorsone said. “We decided we would roll the dice and try to make payroll and food costs while putting them back to work. Some have told me we’re crazy for opening during the pandemic, but we believe our staff can make it work with some help from our great community.”