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Eugene’s in Birmingham Named Best Fried Chicken in Alabama

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By Chanda Temple

www.birminghamal.gov

FabCrunch.com has named Eugene’s Hot Chicken in Birmingham as having the best fried chicken in Alabama.

In its 2023 story, FabCrunch said it scoured the nation “to uncover the best fried chicken spots that will have your taste buds dancing with joy. From coast to coast, we’ve left no stone unturned in our pursuit of the ultimate fried chicken perfection.’’ In reviewing restaurants in every state, FabCrunch.com said that Eugene’s “perfect balance of heat and flavor will leave you craving for more.’’

Eugene’s Hot Chicken CEO and founder Zebbie Carney said he’s humbled by the recognition, citing how cool it is for someone outside Alabama to recognize the restaurant’s hard work. “It’s a blessing,’’ he said.

Carney, 42, learned about the FabCrunch.com distinction at the very end of December 2023 when someone tagged him on Facebook and congratulated him. He said the honor was the perfect way to close out the year.

“I always tell my crew to finish strong,’’ he said. “We try to do what we do and do it well.’’

Carney started Eugene’s in 2015 with pop-up events and a food truck. Today, he has two food trucks, a restaurant in Birmingham’s Uptown district and a restaurant in Hoover. His company also handles concessions at the Birmingham CrossPlex and Bill Harris Arena and offers catering. Up next is a plan to expand in 2024. He sells quarter chickens, half chickens, whole chickens, catfish, popcorn chicken, pork chops, chicken wings and sides. But his chicken tenders are the No. 1 seller.

Eugene’s fried chicken, which has four levels of heat, has garnered a wide fanbase, locally and nationally.

Carney grew up in Nashville, eating at Prince’s Hot Chicken. As he got older, he noticed that hot chicken started appearing on menus in other eateries across the country.

When he moved to Birmingham to work as an executive chef for a chain restaurant in 2010, it hit him that the masses in the Magic City needed hot chicken. He visited the library, where he developed a business plan and created a logo. In his apartment, he worked with spices to get just the right blend for his fried chicken.

And to be a stronger entrepreneur, he enrolled in Create Birmingham’s Co.Starters program, which helps emerging business owners develop and grow their ideas. Combined with his determination, he hit a homerun with Eugene’s.

“Birmingham was already a great food town. Everybody already knew that,’’ said Carney, who is married and has two sons. ‘’I was trying to add something to the already great food town.’’

He hosted his first pop-up event in 2015. Then, he started selling chicken from his food truck outside Saturn in Avondale. He worked his full-time executive chef job from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week. Then, he’d drive across Jefferson County to work the food truck from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Demand for his chicken grew so much that Carney quit his full-time executive chef job at the chain restaurant in March 2016 and poured his all into Eugene’s.

“If you really want something, you’ve got to go for it,’’ he said. “The only way Eugene’s was going to get off the ground was if I put 100 percent in it.’’

Carney has always been one for well-planned steps. When he was younger, he had secured two associate degrees from a community college in Nashville. But when he noticed that he kept getting passed over in the culinary arena for promotions, he wondered if it was because he did not have a college degree. So, he took that barrier off the table in 2007 and enrolled at Tennessee State University.

For two years, he went to TSU on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while also working a full-time job. He stepped down as an executive chef and became a line cook so he could dedicate more time to his studies. In 2009, he graduated from TSU with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

When Carney graduated from TSU, he returned to management in the restaurant chain. The chain sent him to Kansas City and then to Birmingham in 2010. But Carney wanted more in Birmingham. He felt he had reached his ceiling at the restaurant chain, and he pursued starting Eugene’s.

“Entrepreneurship takes grit. You have to be strategic. You have to be hardworking. You have to be a bunch of things to be an entrepreneur,’’ he said. “People give you the shiny stuff in entrepreneurship. But entrepreneurship is tough.’’

“If you have an idea, put everything into it and try it.’’

Create Birmingham is now accepting registration for its 2024 sessions CO.STARTERS.

For more information on Eugene’s Hot Chicken, visit www.eugeneshotchicken.com.