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  • Tara Crutchfield

LoveBird

A little love, a dash of southern hospitality, and good old-fashioned fried chicken are at the center of Lakeland’s newest chicken shack, LoveBird Almost Famous Chicken. The couple responsible for turning up the heat on the pickme-up dining scene is Leah and Jeremy Brumley. You can get in on the Almost Famous action now, too!


A lifelong Lakelander, Jeremy Brumley opened his first business, Woodpecker Records, right out of high school in 1993. His mother ran the record store for a year while he attended college and played soccer in Alabama before returning and attending Florida Southern University.



Ten years into owning Woodpecker Records, Brumley sold the business and started Rockstar Moms, a maternity clothing company with his wife, Leah.


Interested in going to dental school, Brumley moved to Gainesville for a time. There, he would frequent Hogan’s 83, a local sandwich shop. “It was just a hoagie shop with beer, and it was packed all the time,” he said.


He liked the hoagie concept and talked with the owner about bringing it to Lakeland. Instead, Brumley connected with the owner of some 63 Outback Steakhouses, who offered him a job. Coming from small business ownership and with a baby on the way, the idea of a steady paycheck was attractive to Brumley.


“I fell in love with it and worked my way through it from $2.13 an hour all the way to executive,” he said. Brumley worked to learn every position he could, from server and bartender to line cook, host, and eventually executive. “Even to this day, I’m most proud about that,” he said of working his way up through the industry.


He also worked at Bonefish, which is owned by the same company as Outback. When the founder of the down under steakhouse broke off and started the fast-casual chicken chain, PDQ, Brumley hopped on board. He opened the Lakeland location and worked as regional vice president, VP of operations, and eventually COO.



From offering lawn services as a kid to starting a record store and a clothing company, Brumley said, “We’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit in my family.” Despite his corporate gig, Brumley kept focused on his long-term goal to start something of his own again.


THE CONCEPT


Even before the pandemic, Brumley recognized the rapidly changing restaurant industry over his 20 years working within it. With the onslaught of online ordering, delivery, smaller square footage, food trucks, and the like, he saw an opportunity in the ever-evolving industry.


Though the optics and delivery methods may change, “I do believe the future of the restaurant [industry] is still fresh food and great service,” he said. So, he and Leah set out to meet the changing restaurant industry’s needs last September when they secured their building, the former South Florida Starbucks, for their southern fried chicken concept – LoveBird. Designed to offer hospitable service and tasty tenders to-go, this neighborhood pick-me-up chicken joint anticipates roughly 80 percent of sales to be off-premise through their drive-thru, catering, pick-up, and food delivery services.


The LoveBird site, snuggled against South Florida Avenue, doesn’t offer much parking, an intentional layout decision for Brumley. There will always be restaurants where people can come to sit down and share a casual meal with friends and family. Brumley suspects that won’t be the norm, though. “The convenience of ordering food whenever you want it – I don’t know if that will ever go away.”


THE FOOD


“My first introduction to Nashville hot [chicken] was going to Nashville, seeing shows and music, going to breweries,” said Brumley. He tried hot chicken at a brewery food truck and was hooked. Anytime he makes his way to the Music City, he always craves Nashville hot chicken.


There is a hot chicken sandwich on the menu, but LoveBird isn’t exclusively a hot chicken restaurant. “The core of our business is Southern fried chicken,” said Brumley. “It’s great Southern fried chicken and great Southern scratch sides. Think about if a barbecue place and a fried chicken shack had a baby – that’s kind of what we are.”


Former Bonefish colleague turned chef, Chef Rocco Taliani, helped to develop the LoveBird menu. “He had a love for food and had a path that took him from that to being a private chef,” Brumley said. “When I was doing the concept, I thought it would be fun to get him involved.”


The star of the show – delicious fried chicken – is fresh, never frozen, has no added hormones, and is served in quarters. Each chicken gets a little TLC every step along the way to keep it tender and tasty, starting with an up to 24-hour brine. “It’s a process where every level of the chicken is seasoned from its raw state with the brine, our flour, and it gets a dry rub when it comes out. It’s a premium chicken,” said Brumley.


The LoveBird team keeps things traditional with the Nashville hot chicken sandwich offering escalating heat levels depending on how spicy you feel. The chicken goes through a spicy chili-infused oil followed by a dry rub. A nod to Nashville, the hot chicken, is served with white Wonder bread, sweet pickles, two scratch sides, and a sauce if you opt for a plate. For all the flavor and none of the heat, Brumley recommends their Southern-fried Almost Famous Chicken.



Scratch side offerings include slaw, bourbon baked beans, cheesy potatoes, jalapeño bacon corn, tomato cucumber salad, and fries. Guests can opt for dirty fries seasoned and topped with cheese sauce, bacon, green onion, and buttermilk ranch. Round out your meal with southern desserts like fire-roasted apple cobbler and banana pudding.


THE FUTURE


Could we see more LoveBird locations in time? Brumley said, “We have to get one right. […] I think that we have a good shot as long as we continue with our strategic plan and that’s the highest quality food, the best service we can provide, at a price that people can actually afford to eat more than once a month. […] If we can keep those three things in line and establish a brand culture that people want to do business with and feel proud to be a part of, then I think the sky’s the limit.”


LoveBird Almost Famous Chicken

2101 S Florida Ave, Lakeland

FB @lovebirdeats

IG @lovebird.eats


Photography: grainandglass.com

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