Chicken sandwiches come in many forms — katsu, poached, deep-fried, and grilled are just a handful (or two). There’s something comforting about a chicken sandwich for many, whether it’s a childhood memory or a flashback to a convenience store run in Japan. And that’s the clincher for operators who remain focused on executing the basics with a house twist.

Hospitality speaks to the minds behind two of the country’s most popular chicken
sandwiches going around — Jonathan Leondakis from Hugo’s Deli in Melbourne and
Sammy Jakubiak from Frank’s Deli in Sydney — about why they’ve chosen to hone in on
the protein and how their versions are a cut above the rest.

From 10:30am until 2:30pm each day, Hugo’s Deli does not stop making fried chicken
sandwiches. It’s the most popular menu item at the Melbourne eatery, which has been
riding the viral wave since the store launched back in 2022. “We knew we wanted to make a fried chicken sandwich, being one of the most popular things not just in Melbourne but worldwide,” says Co-Owner Jonathan Leondakis. “It’s what we are renowned for, and we wanted to differentiate ourselves from everyone around us.”

But funnily enough, the sandwich wasn’t locked in until two days before Hugo’s swung
open its doors after the team were able to find a shokupan producer. The Japanese
milk bread is delivered to the store daily and is prized for its cloud-like mouthfeel
and subtle sweetness.

“The bread comes in each morning, and we never use any leftover bread because we want to make sure people have the same product every time they come in,” says Leondakis. “It’s super fluffy and pairs really well with the fresh fried chicken.”

When it comes to the chicken, the process begins the night before. “We get chicken thighs in and go over every single one to make sure there are no tendons, veins, or bones,” says Leondakis. “You don’t want to bite into a piece of chicken and have the restraint of a vein or a tendon. We then brine the chicken overnight before crumbing it in the morning with panko. We like the larger crumb size and it’s also inspired by Japanese cuisine.”

The decision to sell the sandwich from 10:30am was a strategic move from the team,
which allows chefs time to prep the menu and push the breakfast muffin instead. “It gives us a window to crumb the chicken on a day-today basis and we never have any left over,” says Leondakis. As soon as a docket is printed, the chicken hits the fry basket which sees the protein cooked to order in canola oil for around eight minutes. “The oil gets changed daily, too — you want that nice golden chicken thigh — and our wait times are no longer than 20 minutes even on our busiest days.”

As for the rest of the sandwich? A slice of shokupan is covered in Hugo’s sauce, pickles,
and finely cut lettuce before the chicken is added, with customers able to add on optional American cheese or house-made hot sauce. “It’s on the sweeter side as we wanted to accommodate everyone, but it’s made with fresh chillies, yuzu, apple cider and has a hint of hotness,” says Leondakis.

There are no plans to take the sandwich off the menu. In fact, it’s even gone interstate with a recent pop-up event taking place at Messina in Sydney. “It is by far our most popular sandwich,” says Leondakis. “We do double or triple compared to any other
item on the menu.”

Frank’s Deli in Sydney decided to focus on chicken during the warmer season for several reasons, but the most important factor? Everyone loves a classic done well. It’s a win for both customers and the Bronte deli with rising supplier costs continuing to impact operators.

“Honestly, in terms of protein, chicken is cheap,” says Head Chef and Owner Sammy
Jakubiak. “But also, when you think of warm weather, you think of lighter options, and I
think chicken suits that.” Chicken has always been a part of the Frank’s core menu in schnitzel form as well as Portuguese (a nod to Oporto founder Antonio Cerqueira’s Bondi burger), with the Waldorf running as a special. The latest addition underwent extensive testing, beginning with the team trying some of the city’s best chicken
sandwiches which led to filling inspo as well as intel on ratios and techniques.

The Waldorf is one of the most iconic salads and was always a crowd favourite when Jakubiak worked in catering. “It was popular when people wanted something a little bit special, so I did a lot of research on the salad and how it has developed over time,” she says. “When we think about new sandwiches, they have to fit the criteria. They need to be familiar, made with ingredients that are high quality but not too expensive for people, and have that wow factor that makes it special and distinctly Frank’s.”

Seven different Waldorf sandwiches were tested including one with coriander and
another with almonds. “You want it to look good, taste good, have texture, acidity, and
then something fresh such as lettuce or tomato,” says Jakubiak. “All the chefs have to
vote and give the tick of approval.”

The wow-factor ingredients are varied, from the maple-roasted walnuts to the inclusion of truffle oil and choice to serve it on a fresh Brickfields ciabatta. “We decided to scoop out some of the bread from the middle so there’s enough space for the filling which has poached shredded chicken, celery, apple, pickled onions, herbs, raisins, mayo, nuts, and lettuce,” says Jakubiak. “The feedback on the Waldorf is really good, and people keep coming back for it so we might have to keep it on. People really like specials and it takes a lot of work to put them on.”

Out of the three chicken sandwiches, the schnitzel sells the most. It’s a nod to the classic milk bar iteration that combines schnitzel with tomato, pickles, and lettuce with a Frank’s twist of pesto mayonnaise and lemon caper aioli. The schnitzel is made from free-range chicken breast which is brined and crumbed by supplier Haverick Meats and sandwiched inside a milk bun.

Frank’s has sold close to 1500 chicken sandwiches in just two months, proving the
popularity of the protein amongst diners across the country. And while keeping costs down is front of mind for most Australians, the chicken sandwich is an example of a meal that doesn’t break the budget or skip on flavour.