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Kelli Alldredge: Taking a Chance, Paying It Forward

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“The community program is what motivates me. It’s great for the stores, but through what we do each and every day you see the positive ripple effect in our community that’s so powerful. That’s what gets me out of bed every day, excited to come to work and thinking, ‘What can we do today?’ We have a full-time community impact coordinator at each store. I tell them every day, ‘Wake up and make the world a better place.’”

Kelli says that the push is for these teams to raise as much money as possible because every day those dollars can make a big difference for those in need in their communities. At the same time, they are focused on creating a warm environment that’s inviting for all.

“Our Chicken N Pickle properties are very special spaces because they are so full of happiness. Cell phones are down. We pride ourselves on connecting with each other. It’s a venue for entertainment with food, drink, game yards, cornhole and lots of space, especially event space. We host rehearsal dinners, weddings, corporate events, birthday parties, you name it. There are just a ton of community and company events,” said Kelli. “We’re more than a pickleball restaurant. Our hearts are local.”

You must have had your head stuck in a pickle jar if you haven’t heard about the explosive sport of pickleball. April is National Pickleball month, and the game seems to be taking over the nation. USA Pickleball estimates that in 2021, 4.8 million people played. In 2022, 36.5 million people got swinging with the sport. Pickleball was invented in 1965 near Seattle, Washington, by three dads whose kids were bored with their summertime activities. The sport has moved from handmade equipment and simple rules into a popular game throughout the U.S. and Canada with professional leagues. Many European and Asian countries are also adding courts.

Kelli notes that the popularity is driven in part by the low cost of entry, which is a paddle and a ball, but it also comes down to the fun of pickleball. “If you can get a paddle in someone’s hands, people fall in love with the game. It’s the social aspect. Pickleball games are usually 10 to 15 minutes. If you play a match, which is two out of three games in a tournament setting, you’re done in 30 minutes. In casual play, you’ll play one game and rotate out. That’s a big difference from tennis because it’s so quick. Also, it’s so welcoming to all ages and ability levels, and I think that’s why it’s so popular.”

Kelli has been “around the court” when it comes to her work career. She’s a personal trainer; world-class tennis player, reaching national champion status in world team tennis in 2013 and 2020; and former Kansas City Chiefs cheerleader from 1998 to 2000. But her role as managing partner at Chicken N Pickle is the highlight of her work life. This turnabout in her career came in a surprising way. While she loves tennis, she decided to try pickleball six years ago. Every Sunday she played with a group and on one occasion met the Chicken N Pickle founder, Dave Johnson. She’s always had a huge heart for community so she approached him with the idea of hosting a fundraiser at Chicken N Pickle. He agreed but put the work on Kelli to plan it. She worked with the Chicken N Pickle staff, and this first fundraiser, on a cold January morning, enticed 250 people to engage and raise $80,000 for The University of Kansas Cancer Center on Green Hills Road, Kansas City, Missouri. It ended up being one of the best days of business Chicken N Pickle had ever enjoyed. Afterward, Dave offered her a position.

“I fell into this job. I was very intrigued by what Chicken N Pickle could do for the community, so I started part time with one location. I built the community program of the North Kansas City store, and I quickly came on full time. Then I was approached to take on pickleball and I agreed. Then I was asked to build a partnership team from scratch, and then I was asked to take on marketing,” she said. “I didn’t go to school for this. My degree is in kinesiology, which does play into the pickleball side. But I always was fully engaged to say yes to these opportunities and then figure it out. That’s been my transition: to slowly figure it out and take on more responsibility.”

Growing not only numbers but expanding business experience and knowledge drives the success story for Kelli. She advises women to continue growing their skillset to advance. “You can never stop learning. You have to keep growing personally so you can grow your teams,” she stated. “I didn’t know the commitment to be a leader and it’s important to read books, listen to podcasts, network, take leadership classes and focus on personal growth to grow your teams.

“Women are incredible multitaskers, so own that, and I want to inspire young women in my company. Our company is so young, but I am motivated to be an example and be fearless. I do break the rules, and I don’t separate personal from business. Chicken N Pickle and my team are my second family, and I treat them like family. My heart is so invested in this company and my team. It’s okay to learn as a team. I tell people to raise your hand and go for it. Don’t be afraid. You may not know everything about the job but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and, as scary as it may seem, you have to raise your hand and go for it. Try to be better every day; don’t think too far ahead. Don’t get overwhelmed and every day just do a little bit better.”

While the news about pickleball has soared in recent years, some potential players are still lingering on the sides of the court wondering how to come out swinging. “You’ve just got to do it. Reach out and get someone who plays to join you. Believe me, they love the game and want to share it. Get online at Chicken N Pickle to see what we offer players of all levels. Every location has a pickleball manager and a team of pickleballers,” commented Kelli. “You’ll be greeted by them and they’ll walk you through all of the options. Beginning classes, newbie nights and we teach a lot of pickleball lessons. I’d recommend having lessons. I think for most the third time it clicks.”

Pickleball is a very new sport that seems to have taken the nation by storm. That outpouring of interest could be overwhelming to many, yet Kelli sees it as an opportunity to grow herself and her team. “Chicken N Pickle has been around for six years, the first of its kind. I’m proud and honored to be where pickleball is today, but no matter how far and wide we grow, Kansas City will always be home. I want people to think about how they can pay it forward.

“I’m here today because someone took a chance on me, our founder Dave Johnson, and I want to be that someone for someone else,” Kelli shared. “If you work hard and set your mind to it, you truly can go anywhere. I always say around the office that even the bad days are good. Put yourself in a situation where even the bad days are good. Chicken N Pickle was growing so rapidly, like drinking from a firehose, and we’ve been faced with growing pains. If you find yourself in that situation, work through them and don’t settle.”

The future is incredibly bright for Kelli, her team and the sport of pickleball, which is on an unbelievable upward bounce. You could say the work and play environment at Chicken N Pickle is such a “dillight” due in large part to an amazing sport and the staff at this business.

“You don’t inspire your team by showing them how amazing you are. You inspire your team by showing them how amazing they are,” Kelli advised. “That’s what I try to do every day.”


• More than 2,000 community groups were supported with 1,454 in-kind donation certificates and auction items valued at $135,150.

• More than $88,000 was donated to nonprofits through Community Cup Campaigns.

• Stores raised $105,628 in donations from weekly giveback nights and hosted 731 community groups on property.

The goal for 2023 is to grow every number and to connect in meaningful ways with the local communities near the company’s new locations in Grapevine, Texas; Glendale, Arizona; and St.
Charles, Missouri.