When Ed Barnett and Karim Webb opened their Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar in south Los Angeles’ Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw district three years ago, the franchisees knew the odds they’d face.
Unlike their first unit, launched 20 months earlier in suburban Torrance, the new restaurant was in an inner-city area that had seen few, if any, nationally franchised, full-service restaurants open in two decades.
Crenshaw was hit hard during the riots that enveloped Los Angeles in 1992 after police officers were acquitted of beating Rodney King.
“During the ‘90s, a lot of businesses burned or left and never came back,” Barnett says. People were afraid to go to the blighted area.
Finding staff was another issue. “When you are in an environment where there are no [t.g.i.] Friday’s, no Chili’s, none of those national competitors, you are not going to have a workforce with much experience,” Webb explains.
Despite the headwinds, the restaurant has been a success. In an environment where single-digit percentage sales gains are good, the unit’s comparable sales jumped 22 percent in 2013 and, at presstime, were up 34 percent so far in 2014.
The Torrance location also has recorded double-digit sales increases.
“Their two restaurants are doing great,” says Jim Schmidt, chief operating officer at Minneapolis-based Buffalo Wild Wings, adding the California duo won the company’s award for the highest percentage same-store sales gain last year. Additionally, the partners “are very engaged in the brand,” with Webb serving on some franchise advisory panels.
Barnett and Webb, both 40, have known each other since age 7. Barnett went into finance and is a partner in a money-management firm. Webb learned restaurant management early: He was 11 when his parents became McDonald’s franchisees.
The two men formed PCF Management, which stands for positive cash flow, to own and operate restaurants. Webb proposed Buffalo Wild Wings.
“In Southern California in 2005 to 2006, to have a sports bar experience you either had to go to a bar with pool tables and that kind of thing, or to restaurants that had a bar” with several TVs, Barnett says. But B-Dubs, as it’s known, is a sports-centric, family restaurant and bar.
Webb liked BWW’s operations. “The food preparation and especially their training systems made me comfortable that my McDonald’s experience would translate well.”
PCF is adding a third location in Carson, 40 minutes away, and Barnett expects to expand further.
Neighborhood involvement has been key in gaining customer recognition and acceptance, first in Torrance and then Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw. Barnett and Webb became part of the communities, supporting local groups, schools, and sports teams.
“Ed and I have different organizations we champion and work for,” Webb says. “We do a lot of community service, and we hire people from the organizations we work with.” Once-inexperienced employees were not only trained, but some are now managers.
Not surprisingly, Barnett and Webb have garnered plenty of honors for their accomplishments, something that is well-deserved, Schmidt states.
“I don’t know of anyone who is a better example of connecting with their community,” he says of Webb and Barnett. “They made a tremendous effort, and it has paid off.”