Chicken Mike stands proudly before a dazzling floor-to-ceiling mural of his favorite bird and ponders the age old question: which came first, the chicken or the egg? He chuckles at the thought.
“We like to be really creative with the things we do,” he says, standing at the entrance of The Garden Hen showroom. The mural features a vibrantly painted 12-foot chicken brooding over a larger-than-life egg. It’s the first thing customers see when they arrive to shop for chicken coops at The Garden Hen, a backyard-chicken headquarters run by owners Chicken Mike and Nicole Graham. Chicken coops are constructed in the back while the front office doubles as a chicken-themed art museum. But the storefront is just a small part of the couple’s success. In just a few short years, Mike and Nicole, not only launched a sprawling chicken-coop business, they hatched a vast chicken empire.
“We just really made a lifestyle out of it,” Nicole says.
Chicken Mike and Nicole started selling chickens on the side of the road near Traders Village with a hand-painted sign that read “eggs, coops, herbs and chickens.” Nicole at the time taught a chicken-hatching program and had accumulated dozens of chickens that needed new homes. After just a few hours of sales, the Grahams sold more than 20 chickens and all of their inventory. They knew they were onto something and started brainstorming ways to “spread the chicken love.”
They decided education was key and went on to develop a chicken-hatching program that has reached some 20,000 schoolchildren. The two bring along their chicken sidekick, Pinecone, and teach about the chicken life cycle from egg to hen.
“When we go to school and when we ask kids where their eggs from from the biggest answer we get is the grocery store,” Nicole says. “They don’t grasp the full concept that food comes from farmers.”
The couple built their first chicken coop in 2013 and saw demand rise. Some are elaborate two-story chicken homes complete with porches or artistic exterior paint. Others are tiny enough to fit on the side of a suburban home. Chicken Mike brokers the deals and draws out the client’s vision with a basic sketch and stick chickens while Garden Hen builders, Bob and Giovanni, make those dreams come to life.
Custom coops can range in price from $400-$30,000, but Mike and Nicole are doing what they can make chicken housing accessible to all. Recently they partnered with a local bank to offer financing for their coops.
“If you can finance a car or a house,” Nicole says. “You should be able to finance something to better help the health of your family.”
The couple hopes their work will bring people “back to their roots” and raise awareness about sustainable farm-to-table living. It’s all about backyard self-sufficiency, they say.
Mike and Nicole like to get creative when sharing their chicken love. They each sport chicken tattoos. They opened what’s perhaps the country’s only chicken-art museum. It features chicken-themed paintings, jewelry and egg-themed, cast-iron skillets. The both star on a reality TV series called City Chickens and recently created an educational cartoon featuring their therapy chicken, Pinecone.
Soon they plan to work with Houston city officials to get more chicken-friendly ordinances and build chicken coops on empty, abandoned city lots.
“Anything you can put your mind to you can get it done,” Nicole says.