Food Lab adds Nashville hot chicken

Kelsie Stevens | Banner | Riverside locals look for the new food spot, “Nashville Hot Chicken,” that will soon open among the variety of food options at the Riverside Food Lab.

Last semester, California Baptist University expanded its dining options by adding Shake Smart and Delect-a-Bowls at Couch’s Corner to its selection. Soon the Riverside Food Lab, a downtown food market with many stands and food options that is beloved by CBU students, is adding a new restaurant to its selection for the first time since its opening in 2018.

Baba’s Chicken, the soon-to-be new addition to the Food Lab, was previously a pop-up that appeared from time to time in Riverside but is now settling down at the Food Lab.

Baba’s Chicken will no longer be a pop-up, but a full-time tenant in the Food Lab replacing Masala Mischief, which was designated a pop-up and had a shorter lease.

Mike Hemood, creator of Baba’s Chicken, never planned on becoming the owner of a restaurant. 

After the first time he tried Nashville Hot Chicken in Los Angeles, he decided to try making his own version and — with great encouragement from his wife — invited some friends over to critique it.

“I never thought about starting a restaurant, but I’ve always enjoyed cooking at home,” Hemood said. “So I had friends come over and I made chicken sandwiches and everybody fell in love with it. They would message me like, ‘Hey man, can we come over this weekend for some chicken sandwiches?’ I thought they were joking, but they were serious. They really wanted chicken sandwiches.”

Hemood said he decided to try it out as a pop-up outside of one of his friends’ stores because of people’s interest in his sandwiches.

“We still have customers that have been with us since day one,” Hemood said. “(Back then) it was taking me 45 minutes to make a sandwich but they didn’t care.”

Ommar Choudhry, co-owner of Baba’s Chicken, said he has been in the restaurant business since he was a teenager, and his family owns several restaurants. 

Choudhry teamed up with his friend Hemood after seeing what he could do with just a pop-up.

“I’ve known Mike for about five years now,” Choudhry said. “We were friends and he mentioned this idea to me. I said, ‘Let me think about it.’ Then he invited me to his pop-up, and I ate the food and I said, ‘Wow, this is different.’”

Choudhry said he was impressed with Baba’s Chicken’s turnout with just a pop-up and was eager to get into business with Hemood for Baba’s Chicken in a full restaurant.

Whether it is on or off campus, students at CBU appreciate variety in their food options and are sure to frequent these new additions.

Brianne Jackson, freshman vocal performance and theater double major, said she was happy to hear about this expansion of food options near CBU, especially since she said she loves chicken.

“I’m here for it,” Jackson said. “I think it’s cool to have diversity in food choices.”

Baba’s Chicken will open at the Food Lab on Market Street mid-February.

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