COLUMBIA — Tony DeAngelo loves his Zaxby's.
"They would have served this at the last supper," DeAngelo said.
He and his fellow Missouri wrestling teammates, Matt Manley and Nick Boone, ate at the Zaxby's grand opening, Monday.
The North Carolina native said eating his chicken finger basket brought back memories from home. DeAngelo's favorite is the Zaxby's sauce, which he sums up as zesty, smooth and with a little kick.
"The south just does chicken right," DeAngelo said.
Two Zaxby's restaurants, known for southern-style chicken, opened Monday in Columbia. They are the first Zaxby's chain restaurants in Missouri.
The restaurants are located at 1411 Cinnamon Hill Lane and 3922 South Providence Road. They are open 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The wrestlers were at the Providence location.
Manley is from Oklahoma and ordered the honey mustard boneless wings, which he said was a different yet good idea. Manley wants to eat at Zaxby's again after practice Monday.
Boone said he is disappointed there is not a Zaxby's in his home state of West Virgina. He likes the options at Zaxby's and ordered the mild wings. Boone also admired the decor, which includes MU memorabilia.
There was a welcoming atmosphere and smell of fried chicken in the air. All three agreed the crushed ice, crinkle-cut fries and custom coke machine were the best aspects of the restaurant — besides the chicken.
Dfrain Biban, general manager of the Zaxby's on Cinnamon Hill Lane, has been with the company for nine years. He began his career as a cashier his freshman year of high school and now oversees one of the new Missouri locations. He moved from Georgia to Columbia for the position.
The restaurant has more than 40 employees, Biban said. He said they have been collaborating with the other Zaxby's location.
"We are helping each other out as we are new residents to Columbia," Biban said. "They are helping us get accustomed to the area and we are helping them with setup."
He said Zaxby's is popular in the south as a casual dining experience. The most popular dish is the chicken finger plate, which is a traditional Zaxby's meal, Biban said.
"We are going to do our best to provide the best service and food every time," Biban said.
According to a news release, two additional Zaxby's locations in Columbia and two in Jefferson City will be added in the next few years.
Zaxby's offers casual dining, drive-through and online orders.
"Online ordering is very convenient," Biban said. "You place and pay for your order online and can pick it up through the drive-thru."
The restaurant chain began in Statesboro, Ga., in 1990. The chain now operates in more than 595 locations in 14 states. It was ranked fifth nationally for total sales and first in the chicken segment by the 2012 Top 150 Fast-Casual Chain Restaurant Report.
Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.