BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) – A “Big” franchise is coming to Florida’s Panhandle in a “Big” way.

The Panhandle Restaurant Group signed a commitment deal with “Big Chicken,” whose founder is former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal.

O’Neal is mostly known for his years playing in Los Angeles for the Lakers alongside Kobe Bryant, but he spent a large part of his career in Florida. He played four seasons for the Orlando Magic and four seasons for the Miami Heat

The company is now thinking about opening a future Big Chicken location in the Sunshine State.

“Unbelievable chicken sandwiches,” CEO of Panhandle Restaurant Group Chris McMillan said. 

McMillan said that is the only way to describe Big Chicken. Soon Bay County in the Florida Panhandle will be the home to not just one, but potentially four Big Chicken locations.

“Right now, we’ve got four that we are looking at,” McMillan said. “We’ve got a commitment deal with a minimum of 40.”

CEO of Big Chicken Josh Halpern said the Panhandle will lead in their company’s expansion.

“We’ve just had two open the last couple of years and then the pandemic hit and Shaquille O’Neal said ‘Let’s wait, and when we come out of the pandemic, let’s really propel forward,’” Halpern said.

So far, Halpern said they have not experienced any major supply chain issues that would lead them off course to open locations in Bay County.

He said residents can expect Big Chicken to bring a unique Southern flair that’s unlike any other restaurant.

“Our menu is just a little bit different,” Halpern said. “He wanted to make a big sandwich and over-the-top just like his good friend Charles Barkley is. So we have the Charles Barkley sandwich which has onion straws, and mac and cheese on the sandwich. You can’t exactly find that at other chicken chains.”

They also want the local restaurants to bring a unique sandwich inspired by the area. Halpern said they are working with McMillan to come up with sandwich ideas.

Big Chicken hopes to lend a helping hand in the county’s school district as well.

“Knock on wood, if everything goes smoothly, it’ll be early 2023,” McMillan said of potential opening date. 

He said currently they are working to secure the first location and they are far along in that process.

The Panhandle Restaurant Group is working on several other restaurants as well. One is C-Mac’s, which will be a casual seafood restaurant, and the other is PJ’s Coffeeshop out of New Orleans.

They also have a concept they are working on for a taco restaurant as well, but that is in the beginning phases.