Terry Heller fires up Wild & Free in Sherman Oaks
Terry Heller fires up the rotisserie in Sherman Oaks.
CategoryEat & Drink
Written byMichalene Busico
Photographed byAndrew Noel and Tegan Butler
Five days after the doors open at Wild & Free, Terry Heller’s snappy new rotisserie chicken spot in Sherman Oaks, long lines are stretching from the counter late into the evening, the gas-powered Rotisol rotisseries are cranking out 200 birds a day instead of the expected 80, and Heller’s slightly shell-shocked employees are running around like … you know.
Some people have the touch: that uncanny ability to see what we all want before we even know we want it. When he started a career in music, Heller signed the Black Eyed Peas when he was just 18 years old. Five years ago, when he segued from real estate into the restaurant business, he created an idiosyncratic eatery called Plan Check Kitchen + Bar in West LA, and soon enough, the Plan Check Burger topped with “ketchup leather” had a devoted following, and the devotees had four locations to choose from. Now Heller has decided it’s time to rethink fast-casual dining. “It’s still a white space,” he says, explaining why he chose rotisserie chicken over, say, tacos or pizza. “I don’t see a lot of innovation. No one is doing anything that’s exciting.”
On the high end, Los Angeles is in a golden age of roast chicken. Fancy whole birds are the stars of the menu at the new 189 by Dominique Ansel in the Grove and at Walter Manzke’s Republique on La Brea. Daniel Humm’s truffle-gilded chicken is likely to make an appearance at the downtown Nomad hotel next year. Heller’s birds come with a pedigree—they are free-range Mary’s chickens—but the surroundings are much lower key. Wild &
Free is part takeout, part higher-design fast food. The menu is built around four plump, juicy rotisserie birds: “original” spiced with pepper and garlic, “wild” with chilies, canela and citrus, “smoky bbq,” and “savory” with lemon and rosemary. Side dishes have a touch of ambition too. Baby potatoes from Weiser Family Farms are roasted beneath the birds, picking up a luscious coating of schmaltz and topped with bits of crisp chicken skin.
Japanese sweet potatoes are mashed with miso butter. Thin-cut French fries are coated in spices that taste exactly like a barbecue potato chip. There are also chicken sandwiches served on sturdy rolls and a few bowls. The standout Sinaloa bowl, inspired by a motorcycle trip through Mexico, features shredded spiced chicken, grilled pineapple and seared green onions, served over herby green rice. Most everything is well under $20, and the whole operation is cash free—credit and debit cards only, please.
“This entire menu could change in a year,” Heller says, as he refines the concept with an eye toward growing it in the future. He’s already planning to replace the rectangular paper serving plates (a vague problem with the vibe), add more chicken to the bowls and streamline the service. How many Wild & Frees does Heller eventually want to open? His answer is simple: “More.”