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Tuesday, June 29, 2021

River City Resilience Series: Dayton, Kentucky | Galactic Fried Chicken serves up Out-of-This-World Chicken! (Sponsored by Southbank Partners)

“Positive will Prevail” 

Photo: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters. 

by Robin Gee
Photos by Phil Armstrong

Galactic Fried Chicken | 624 6th Avenue, Dayton KY
Monday - Wednesday 11:30am - 8 pm; Thursday - Saturday 11:30 a.m. - 9pm; Sunday 11:30am - 8pm | Take out and delivery (within a 3-4 mile radius), call (859) 287-7049 

Galactic Fried Chicken | 624 6th Avenue, Dayton KY. Photo: Phil Armstrong. 

Shane Coffey, who owns Galactic Fried Chicken in Dayton, Kentucky, with his wife, Kathy McDonald, said his motto for life and for his business is “positive will prevail.” That motto served him well as he opened up his restaurant on March 5, 2020, just a few days before the world went into shut down mode.

Shane Coffey and Kathy McDonald. Photo: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters. 

An experienced restaurateur who had held executive chef positions in Aspen, Colorado; New York City and, more recently, in an upscale private resort in the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Bahamas, he knew opening a new eatery in the middle of a pandemic would be a challenge, but he was confident that he could handle whatever came.

Fortunately, McDonald also had experience in the industry. The couple knew when to pivot and how, he said. "And, fried chicken does well in carry out situations. Originally, we weren’t going to even deal with carry out because we had quite a lot of success without that, but, obviously, that was a change we made...We just kept our heads up and tried to push forward."

That attitude did indeed serve them well. The restaurant has quickly built a reputation for some of the best fried chicken in the region, and as things have opened up, their inside dining stays busy at full capacity. They seat about 50 inside but also have an outdoor patio behind the store and share an outdoor space with Unataza Coffee, a Honduran-inspired coffee cafe next door that opened in 2019.  

Photo: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters. 

Deepening Roots in Dayton

While they reconnected in the Bahamas, both Coffey and McDonald grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and went to the University of Cincinnati, so they knew the area and wanted to return to live here after Coffey’s time at the resort was over. McDonald had owned a home in Dayton, Kentucky, for 18 years, and Coffey said it just felt right.

"We thought about it. It would have been fairly easy for me to just open another restaurant in Aspen or New York, but we decided to be here and started by going the food truck route," Coffey explained.

He started with Street Chef Brigade, bringing "edgy comfort food" to area businesses and locations before settling in outside the Streetside Brewery in the East End. From there he bought a second truck. That truck was painted with a fun retro, space-aged theme, inspiring the name for his new business, Galactic Fried Chicken.

How Galactic touched down in Dayton, he said, is an interesting story. He used to take his first truck to Darkness Brewing in Bellevue right nextdoor. One day, one of the brewery owners asked him if he could do fried chicken. "I said I can so the next time I came there I did. That was probably 2016 or early 2017. It kinda set the scene."

He’d been toying with idea of doing a fried chicken truck. He started experimenting with recipes and talking to people all over about what they liked and didn’t like. At about the same period he was approached by people in Cincinnati considering a new restaurant. When he told a friend about it, his friend asked, "Are you interested in brick and mortar again? Well, I know a spot. It just needs some elbow grease and someone who knows what they’re doing."

Coffey was intrigued and agreed to check it out, and when the friend told him the address, he was floored. The restaurant space was right around the corner from his house. 

"I knew it was right the moment I walked in. It’s got a real retro vibe; it used to be the Dayton Chili Parlor and it had an art deco, midcentury modern look going for it. I looked to my wife and said, do you want to fix up the house or open a restaurant? So, here we are."

He was able to sell his original truck business but kept the Galactic Fried Chicken truck. It’s now sitting on his property. He said he expects to use it again to help promote his brick-and-mortar store around the area.

Photo: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters. 

Right place, right time

Dayton was home, he said, and he wanted to build something that would be a part of the community. The city is thriving, growing quickly in recent years, but "sometimes people in the area don’t remember we are only two miles from downtown Cincinnati. Once people realize we’re here they love it."

Some of the locals from across the river are pleasantly surprised and tell him they had no idea so much was here so very close. They have "rediscovered" Dayton. "That’s pretty fun," he said.

In recent years the city of Dayton has concentrated on attracting new business and in particular revitalizing the stretch that runs along Sixth Avenue connecting with nearby Bellevue’s popular shopping district along Fairfield Avenue. The connections between the two communities are clear, yet each has its own distinct character.

The city is supporting this development through community incentive grants, and the plan is paying off. In the last few years several vacant buildings within the business district have been transformed. In addition to Unataza Coffee and Galactic Fried Chicken, the city center boasts an old-time candy shop, a salon and brow bar, a new pharmacy, a new doctor’s office, a flooring showroom and new restaurants, as well as coming soon a second location for Roebling Books, a popular Covington bookstore.

The city’s apartment and condo market has expanded with luxury developments, and officials have been working on entertainment and recreation opportunities for current residents and new riverfront dwellers, including the Riverfront Commons project that runs along the Ohio and connects the various river cities.

Photo: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters. 

Chicken is the star, but check out the jackfruit

While his restaurant might be a surprise for some, Galactic Fried Chicken’s reputation has grown quickly over the past year. The specialty is, of course, fried chicken, but it is not like fried chicken anywhere else in the region, Coffey said.

"Our chicken is more of the southern style, has a little bit of spice to it,” he said. “We specifically wanted avoid two things. We wanted to move away from the tenders-only situation, and we also got away from the very hot trend."

Trends come and go. They die. "But what doesn’t die is simple, straightforward fried chicken," he said.


Photo: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters. 

It is straightforward chicken, but the secret to success is in the crust. For one thing, it’s gluten-free. When he was traveling down south, Coffey said he picked people’s brains for what made the best chicken crispy.

"And rice flour kept coming up. So, when I came back to Kentucky, I started messing around with it, and I realized I like the texture of the rice flour and potato starch much more than the wheat flour formulas we put together."

People in his family suffer from celiac’s disease, but Coffey said he didn’t set out promote his chicken as a gluten free option at first. He wanted to build a reputation for great-tasting fried chicken alone. Yet, the word is out for people concerned about gluten. People come from all over the state and beyond. Children’s Hospital has even been recommending Galactic Fried Chicken to patients. Coffey notes his brine is dairy free as well, another "happy accident."

What is not an accident is perhaps the most unique item on the menu — fried jackfruit, a fibrous Southeast Asian fruit that looks somewhat like a pineappple. While older jackfruit you can sometimes find fresh in Krogers and other are groceries is very sweet, Coffey said he uses young canned jackfruit. (Some have compared young jackfruit with its mild sweetness to a slightly sweet pulled pork.) 

Photo: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters. 

With his spices and the same crust as his chicken, Coffey has added a special treat for vegetarians to enjoy alongside their chicken-loving friends and family.

Traditional sides round out the menu, he said, including macaroni, mashed potatoes, French fries, corn cobettes and, on occasion, green beans. He also has kale salad and other choices as well as fried pickles and crunchy fried cracklin’s made from the chicken skin. Galactic Fried Chicken also has a full liquor license, Coffey added.


Photo: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters. 

Lessons learned and looking ahead

When asked what he would take away from this unusual year, he said, "Even with as much experience as I’ve had, every time you do something new, you want to do everything, when, maybe you just need to step back, pare down a a few things very well."

He is concerned about the rise in food costs across the industry. The price of chicken tenders has shot up 100 percent over 2019 prices. It’s scary, he said, but he’s kept that positive attitude and his ability to adapt. He said with national food sources rising, he is using even more locally sourced food. He’s also trying out new recipes for dark meat and in-bone pieces.

Galactic Fried Chicken employs about six people but as business continues to grow, Coffey hopes to add more staff. The crew he has now keep things going, but he said he’d like to give them and himself a little more time off. The restaurant is open seven days a week but shuts down for a few days around all the major holidays.

Coffey is excited about the future. He is already looking to expand, talking to people on both sides of the river. In Kentucky, he said, he is looking to possibly open further south. He already has a good following from Louisville and Lexington both, he said.

"Our thing has been 'positive will prevail.' We lived that this year. We had that before the pandemic and it worked out for us. No matter what happens, we will keep moving forward. And, we will prevail."

About Southbank Partners

Southbank Partners, Inc,, is a community and economic development organization that coordinates activity with the cities that lie along Northern Kentucky's bank of the Ohio River. Their purpose is to support the cities through promoting and coordinating development activities, fostering teamwork and collaboration, and providing a unified voice for the partner cities in advocating common positions to state and federal government, as well as to other communities. Members are: Bellevue, Covington, Dayton, Fort Thomas, Silver Grove, Ludlow and Newport.

Photos: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters. 

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