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  • Tara Crutchfield

LoveBird Lands in Winter Haven

Lakeland couple Jeremy and Leah Brumley are bringing their rockstar chicken concept to Winter Haven this summer. Maybe you’ve wondered what that hot pink sign on 17 would be or what the cow atop the building beckoning you to eat more chicken meant. The former filling station at 199 6th Street NW will be a 2,200-square-foot chicken joint serving up Southern scratch cuisine. LoveBird Almost Famous Chicken is expected to open their Winter Haven location in early August.

The Brumleys opened LoveBird Almost Famous Chicken in Lakeland just over three years ago. “The community has been great. We’re very grateful for all the support,” said Jeremy. “They’ve been fantastic. They’re the reason why we’re open.”

They opened dealing with supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic. They struggled to get the ingredients they needed, most importantly, chicken. Because of this, they were open six days a week for dinner only. “As of six months ago, we are now seven days a week, lunch and dinner,” Brumley said. “Everyone has been very supportive and patient.”

Now it’s time to expand the Almost Famous Chicken brand. But first, a little LoveBird backstory.

A lifelong Lakelander, 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 to enroll at 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 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 Jim Pollard, 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, owned by the same company as Outback. Brumley hopped on board when the founder of the down-under steakhouse broke off and started the fast-casual chicken chain PDQ. 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.

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 when they secured their building, the former South Florida Starbucks, for their southern fried chicken concept – LoveBird.

“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 joint. “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 Rocco Taliani helped to develop the LoveBird menu. “He had a love for food and 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.

Some of the scratch side offerings include slaw, bourbon baked beans, 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 banana pudding.

Now, LoveBird is flying east and bringing its old-fashioned country fried chicken with it. Of the new space, Brumley said, “I really like to keep everything compact, get the company to grow one restaurant at a time, and keep it people-focused more than it is the brand. Winter Haven completely makes sense.”

As the company grows, the Brumleys want to avoid creating carbon copies. Though the soul of LoveBird will remain the same wherever you go, some elements will change. Without specifics, Brumley noted there will be a few tweaks and additions to the Winter Haven menu.

Be on the lookout for the Brumleys’ next concept in Lakeland, a burger and hotdog spot with a full liquor bar at the former Poor Porker turned Unfiltered. We’ll fill you in on that tasty endeavor as it gets closer to opening.

LoveBird Almost Famous Chicken

2101 S Florida Ave, Lakeland

199 6th St NW, Winter Haven

FB: LoveBird - Almost Famous Chicken

IG @lovebird.eats


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