Deep-fried chicken sales continue to increase, fueled in part by an unlikely source: the COVID-19 pandemic.

The spread of the novel coronavirus has pummeled the restaurant industry and led to business suspensions and closures. But the number of shops specializing in deep-fried chicken, particularly takeout orders, has grown, while operators of family restaurant and “izakaya” pub chains are making full-scale inroads into the market.

Opening such eateries requires a simple building, a fryer and a refrigerator. Initial expenses start at 7 million yen ($67,600), about one-third of the cost to open a regular restaurant.

Deep-fried chicken is relatively easy to cook and requires no previous experience in running a restaurant.

In addition, lifestyle changes caused by the pandemic have helped to increase demand for takeout orders.

With the number of double-income households growing and increasingly dining at home, more people are shying away from the time-consuming process of cooking deep-fried chicken. Ordering takeout chicken is much easier.

Deep-fried chicken restaurants first became popular mainly in northern Oita Prefecture and then spread nationwide starting around 2010, according to research firm Fuji Keizai Co. The number of such eateries was 920 in 2017 and soared to 1,700 in 2019.

One operator of those restaurants, Torisho, which was founded in 2010 in Osaka, now runs more than 150 franchises across the country.

Sales at family restaurant chain operator Skylark Holdings Co. have plunged, including a 40 percent year-on-year decline in April, when the COVID-19 situation was severe.

However, its 90 or so Karayoshi restaurants that specialize in deep-fried chicken have maintained sales levels similar to those in 2019, thanks largely to takeout options.

Skylark in August moved to accommodate Karayoshi outlets within its Gusto family restaurants. There are now about 200 Gusto-Karayoshi restaurants, but Skylark plans to increase the number to more than 1,100 around the country by March.

Watami Co., a major izakaya chain operator, is also rapidly expanding its Karaage no Tensai deep-fried chicken restaurant franchises.

However, experts have expressed doubts that the deep-fried chicken boom will continue.

“Demand has shifted (to fried chicken providers) from restaurants whose sales have plummeted due to the coronavirus,” said Sayaka Azuma, an analyst at research firm NPD Japan Ltd. “I think that things will calm down when many people start eating again at restaurants.