Wing Zone founder Matt Friedman has observed, as many other operators around the country have, how seamless the path from full service to fast casual can be. The blueprint for the reverse trajectory isn’t always quite as clear, however. Still, Friedman, who has watched his company boom from a University of Florida fraternity kitchen to locations across 25 states, wanted his business to cover all angles.

And the experience has been a successful, and informative, one so far, he says.

WZ Tavern, located in East Cobb, Georgia, opened August 25, marking the first full-service unit for the popular franchise, which, naturally, focuses on wings. Friedman says the restaurant has averaged $60,00 in weekly sales. “It started out strong and it’s stayed consistent,” Friedman says. “I think that’s what’s been so encouraging so far. A lot of new restaurants hit that down point, but we just seem to be getting better and better.”

Friedman found a perfect first partner in Michael Dickson. In an earlier discussion, Dickson mentioned he might want to enter the restaurant industry. Friedman also lives nearby and has been able to stay directly involved. He says it took nine months to work out a menu, and that staffing has been a vastly different experience. “We have to work with three, four times the numbers of a Wing Zone,” he explains. “There’s a lot more that goes into it.”

There’s also the balance of brand loyalty. Fans of the fast-casual concept are likely to enjoy the elevated brand, Friedman admits—there’s 12 wing flavors and diners can order them by the 50-load if desired. But entrees like Chicken & Waffles, Flat Iron Steak, and Grilled Salmon should draw in a much deeper crowd. Some of the menu’s signature items include Buffalo Chicken Dip, Homemade Mozzarella Sticks, Black and Bleu Flatbread, the Double Dare Burger (two 8-ounce Angus beef patties, four slices of bacon with melted American cheese topped with a beer-battered onion ring, and The Big Red sandwich (hand-breaded chicken breast, lightly fried, and tossed in Wing Zone Hot Shot, and topped with pepper jack cheese on a toasted brioche bun. There are also seven salads to choose from, with healthy options like the Holy Kale—egg bacon, red onion, roasted peppers, and cashews on a bed of baby kale.

The sports tavern has ambiance to consider as well. TVs throughout and the large footprint provide entertainment—such as live music—or just a great place to watch the game. There's also a large outdoor patio and an extensive drink list. Currently, there are 16 beers on draft, ranging in local craft selections like the Three Taverns A Night in Brussels Belgian IPA from Decatur, Georgia, and the Monday Night Drafty Kilt from Atlanta, to popular macro-brews like Miller Lite, Bud Light, and Pabst Blue Ribbon. There are also more than 40 beers available by the bottle, which, again, cover the gamut from Rolling Rock to Jekyll Hop Dang Diggity (Alpharetta, Georgia).

In February or March 2016, Friedman plans to start looking for new franchisees. “It’s been exciting,” he says. “We’re looking for people who are invested in their communities. That’s what WZ Tavern is all about.”

Danny Klein 

Industry News, NextGen Casual