Madera South grad finds niche
Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Marcel McAlister is the owner of the Fury Hot Chicken food truck. McAlister serves the Madera community, and other surrounding cities.
When Madera South High School graduate Marcel McAlister’s basketball career ended, he wondered what he was going to do.
It was a trip to Los Angeles that opened his eyes and a few months ago, his vision came to fruition with the Fury Hot Chicken food truck that specializes in Nashville hot chicken. He has a chicken sandwich, tenders, chicken nuggets and loaded fries on his food truck. They come with a number of sauces, including a honey blazon sauce and a comeback sauce.
“We got up and running about four months ago and it’s been pretty crazy,” he said.
The 2014 graduate had dreams of playing basketball before he tore his ACL his senior year.
“When I was playing, my hope was to go to Fresno Pacific,” he said. “I knew the coach and did some camps there. I had a look to play at FPU. That went out the window when I tore my ACL”
After graduating from Madera South, McAlister enrolled at Fresno City College, but didn’t last too long.
“My motivation in school had always been basketball,” he said. “That kept me and my friends out of trouble. That kept us on the right path. When I couldn’t play basketball anymore, I wasn’t connected in school like I should have. I made the Dean’s list my first year. Being there felt like I was in limbo going through life trying to figure out what to do. I started watching stuff like Shark Tank to try to find my own thing.
“I wanted to find something that gave me that same feeling that basketball gave me. I wanted to find something that made me want to go to practice, want to go learn to be great at this thing.”
On a chance trip to Los Angeles, he visited a place that had a three-hour wait for their food, which specialized in Nashville hot chicken.
“I was wondering if it was that good,” he said. “A girl I was talking to at the time said we have to go try it. We went over there and it was so busy, we couldn’t experience it. For me, it was an experience in itself to see how people felt about this style of chicken. It was a foodie experience. It’s not just about the food, but it’s about the atmosphere, about the service and everything that has to do with the brand. That’s what got me excited about Nashville hot chicken.”
When McAlister experienced the Nashville hot chicken, he knew that was his plan and did what he could to build that brand.
“The Valley didn’t have it at the time. I said I have to be the one to bring it here,” he said. “I started practicing with recipes. At first, it tasted disgusting. I was discouraged. I wondered how I was going to get people to buy this. Just like how I was with my funnel cake business. I wasn’t good at cooking, either. I’m in love with business. Food is like a science. It’s been practiced so many times, we’ve been able to perfect these recipes. I kept practicing and working on the brand. I kept working on the artistry and logos, the aesthetic and color scheme. I launched it as a tent as Hot Birds.”
Hot Birds was a success for a while, but McAlister was looking for more. He dropped out of school and began working 16-hour shifts at Ardagh Group for four years to save enough money to start his business.
“I got my tents going. I kept popping up next to the In-N-Out I used to work at on Shaw and 99,” he said. “At first, with funnel cakes, it was super slow. We weren’t doing too much business. Over time, we got to 60-100 people showing up when I did the funnel cakes and Hot Birds at the same time. Both would sell out within three hours.”
While he was set up at a tent on Shaw, McAlister was trying to latch on to events to grow his business, but couldn’t find any footing.
“Business in the Central Valley is very political,” he said. “It’s not like Los Angeles, where you can just (set) up on the side of the road and nobody tells you anything. Out here, you have to do events to be able to pop-up your business or be a part of an event. I tried to get into multiple events. I was trying to get into the Madera Fair, the Fresno Fair, Vintage Days and other events. I couldn’t get any love. My set-up was a tent. The look wasn’t professional. They didn’t understand I was starting and I needed to start somewhere; the product was good, the service was good, everything was good. I didn’t’ have the set-up needed to commercialize the business.”
However, that didn’t deter McAlister. He kept popping up at Shaw and developed a following until he got shut down by the City of Fresno.
“If nobody was going to give me a shot, I’m going to show up on the side of the road,” he said. “That’s what we did and we started killing it. The City of Fresno came out and told us to shut down. They came out on a Saturday. We had been blowing up so much and they found out about us. They came out on a Saturday to shut us down. A lot of people do this and get away with it. We were doing so well, they paid us a specific visit to say I couldn’t pop-up with my tent. I wasn’t meeting the guidelines to operate at that level.”
Still not deterred, McAlister went back to work to try to raise enough money to purchase a food truck and mobilize.
“I was heavily invested in the tents and the equipment,” he said. “We finally started to create some buzz. I had to commercialize my business. I didn’t have the money and know-how to do this stuff. That was in 2019. I started making calls and having meetings to figure out ways to get my business back and get it to a point to operate consistently. There was a lot of money at play. They said I needed assets so I bought a house. I paid off my cars. I started investing in stocks. I tried to use anything I can to show I had assets and cash at hand. I was working like crazy to save as much money as I could. It took me two years to make the comeback. Since we opened in July, things have been heading into the right direction.”
For the past few months, McAlister and Fury Hot Chicken have been doing events around the Central Valley and popping up in Fresno and Madera to create a following.
“We sold out our last time in Madera and sold out in two hours,” he said. “It was a crazy turnout. We had 60-70 people in line and we had people in line a half-hour before opening. We came with a lot of food with hopes of making it through the night. They were ordering a lot of food.”
Now, McAlister is trying a radical idea and hopes it will fly.
“We’re getting ready for a radical idea,” he said. “We’re going to set up a drive-through style for our food truck for our location in Fresno. We’re going to operate there Thursday through Sunday. 5030 W. Shaw, right off of Shaw and Golden State at Shaw City Engines. After 6 p.m., that lot is ours. We’re going to use that lot to set up cones so cars can come in, place their order online, place their order, drive up to the truck and get their food.”
McAlister worked to get his brand to the public. He also wanted to make sure his new location was close enough for Madera and Fresno residents to go to.
“Our gameplan, and it’s something I had to strategically come up with to remain consistent, was the first three months to be everywhere,” he said. “We wanted to be in Madera because that’s where we’re from. We tried to be in Fresno, Clovis and have done multiple events around the Valley. We wanted to get as much exposure before winter comes. Food trucks usually slow down when winter comes. That’s a time where people don’t want to get out of their car. They don’t want to wait for their food. What we started doing in August was getting people used to our website when we were at Shaw. We wanted to get people thinking every time they were on Shaw, they can order online. We’ve had the opportunity to be at River Park. They wanted to put us next to the Target to do a drive-thru over there. My biggest thing was to be as close to people from Madera and Fresno. It’s right off 99 right off Shaw. It’s also easy for people to come through from all over the Valley.”
Customers can visit www.furyhotchickn.com to view the menu or to order before they head to McAlister’s new site.