When Charlotte native Lynn Mussen was laid off from her accounting job at the end of 2008, she decided her days of being cooped up in an office were over. The following year, she and her husband opened Cluck-n-Cup (www.cluckncup.com), which specializes in chicken pot pie and coffee, as well as such breakfast and lunch items as eggs, sandwiches, wraps and salads. Though ham and turkey also are on the menu, Mussen's meat of choice is chicken. "It's affordable and you can really dress it up," she says. "We don't have any fried food; the chicken is marinated and grilled, so it's also a healthy alternative. I can't say the chicken pot pie is a low calorie dish, but it's good for the soul."
Creative Loafing: Since the opening of your first Cluck-n-Cup in 2009, you've expanded with two additional locations (South End in 2010 and North Charlotte in 2011). In today's harsh economic climate, what do you attribute to this growth spurt?
Lynn Mussen: We have a unique product mix. We do our chicken pot pies, which are extremely popular, and we have excellent gourmet coffee. That's the reason for the name, the Cluck-n-Cup, the chicken and the coffee. Our chicken pot pies have been a market that I don't think has been tapped into and our product is really excellent. People love it. The need for comfort food was there, especially in this economy. People have had those frozen pot pies that are just horrific and I wanted people to experience a really great, fresh, handmade chicken pot pie with white breast meat. That's one thing we're able to sell a lot of, in addition to our broccoli casserole. We also offer them in the take and bake format, where people can buy fresh ones and take them home to cook them.
The restaurant's chicken pot pie is based off of a recipe you found online and spruced up with multiple modifications. During trial batches, how did you determine which was better?
Believe it or not, I had three gentlemen that weigh over 250 pounds be my taste test panel and I made four different batches of filling and let them try each of them with different measurements of spices and ingredients. They each ate about seven pot pies each — they're big eaters, big men — and we figured out which one was the very best. Actually one of them is a food critic for an Atlanta newspaper and he happened to be in town. They all had a lot of fun. We found the one that was definitely the winner, and before we opened our doors we worked to perfect that recipe. It's been very well received.
Your restaurants are filled with chicken knick-knacks. How did you acquire the extensive collection?
My mother used to collect little chicken pieces from the 1800s that people used to stir churned butter in. She had a huge collection of them. When she passed away a few years ago, those chickens needed a home, so they became my restaurant décor. Since I've been in business, I keep getting more and more from customers, friends and family. They're all unique and special to me.