A tray of Roaming Rooster chicken sandwiches is ready for hungry customers at the Skyland area location in Ward 7. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)
A tray of Roaming Rooster chicken sandwiches is ready for hungry customers at the Skyland area location in Ward 7. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

The No. 1 chicken sandwich on several lists around the metro D.C. area can be found at Roaming Rooster – a business that began with a fleet of four food trucks. Loyal patrons checked daily social media posts to see where the trucks would be. 

It’s an immigrant family affair business that includes brothers Michael and Biniyam Habtemariam and sister-in-law, Hareg Mesfin. 

But things came to a screeching halt in March 2020 due to the pandemic. At that time, Roaming Rooster had a depot in the Woodridge community on Bladensburg Road in Northeast where their food trucks had been stocked daily. Thinking quickly, the family pivoted, turning the depot into a pick-up/delivery scenario. 

Today, Roaming Rooster has nine locations in the metropolitan area with more on the way. But how did this growth spurt occur?

Roaming Rooster is a family-owned business. At the Skyland area location in Ward 7 are (from left) owners Michael Habtemariam, his sister-in-law, Hareg Mesfin, and Michael’s brother, Biniyam Habtemariam. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

“We have an agent who does a good job finding and negotiating locations for us,” Biniyam said from their Ward 7 Skyland location on Good Hope Road in Southeast. 

“Since COVID, developers were positioning former restaurant spaces for new tenants and very little buildout was required to meet our specific business model,” she said. 

An exception to the concept of occupying former restaurant space is the location in Rockville at Pike and Rose and the Skyland location. Regardless, Michael and Biniyam have found that developers and landlords want to support Black-owned businesses. 

Solid Staffing and Excellent Food Equals Success

The atmosphere at Roaming Rooster locations I visited remained similar – families with children where staff walk through greeting patrons. 

An opportunity to move up in the organization serves as a big draw for new staff. Several restaurant managers and crew chiefs started out in first-level positions, moving quickly up the ranks.

Joslyn Goldring is one of the front-line staff at the Skyland Plaza location in Ward 7. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

Sandwiches deserve their top chicken sandwich ranking. Last year, the 39th RAMMYS, sponsored by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW), awarded Roaming Rooster the top prize in the Hottest New Sandwich Shop category. 

As the business has grown, so have the menu items. Today Roaming Rooster offers four different chicken sandwiches with a choice of mild, medium, hot or extra hot levels of seasoning, twice-fried fries and biscuits recently added to the Bladensburg location. Custards, a super thick milkshake, will help cool down the heat from the seasonings. 

Roaming Rooster supports other minority-owned businesses by serving fruit smoothies created by the company “South Block” and natural herbal tea and juice blends from “A Distinctive Taste.”

Social media counts as the driving promotional source for Roaming Rooster, keeping fans updated on new openings. A steady flow of customers shows up at locations in the District, suburban Virginia, Maryland and at the Washington Nationals ballpark. New locations continue to be developed in Manassas, Va., Gaithersburg, Md. and Crofton, Md. and they’re plans to expand outside of the Greater Washington Area. 

As Ethiopian immigrants, Habtemariam and his family know they are living the American Dream.

“We’re pinching ourselves every day,” Michael said. “The community continues to support us. We saw how busy the food truck was before the pandemic, then we went to a carryout business. People were driving from Virginia for carryout at the Bladensburg location.”

To find a Roaming Rooster location, visit the website https://www.roamingroosterdc.com or follow on Instagram and Twitter @roamingrooster1.

Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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