There are simply some questions a single person, or company, can’t answer alone. Gary Huether, Jr., the president and co-founder of Arooga's Grille House & Sports Bar, had no qualms about this matter when he began entertaining the idea of swapping his best-selling item for an organic version. If it was produce or even, admittedly, anything else, Huether and his team would have simply made the switch, hoped for the best, and moved on. “This is different,” Huether explains. “This involves our chicken wings.”
A decision of that gravity must be made by the masses. Through October 12, the central-Pennsylvania-based brand is letting its patrons decide the fate of its signature item. In its Hershey and Camp Hill locations, consumers are judging the new organic wings. A worthy study, Huether says, when you consider the implications.
“We felt like it was too big of an item for us to just make that call, straight out and hope everyone is good with it,” he says. “So that’s kind of where the guest came in, to find out what was important to them.”
There’s a short survey after the meal, with the main question being a very straightforward one: Do you prefer these wings over the previous wings?
And what exactly is the difference? Huether says it’s the battle of two age-old concerns in the business: size or substance.
The organic wings, which are sourced from a farm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, are smaller. Huether estimates that in a case of wings, they’re looking at one to two more per pound when dealing with the organic product. He says the taste is a far more resounding change—something he hopes will resonate with testers. Personally, Huether has a strong opinion. “The question is, would our customers prefer larger wings that are pumped full of hormones or steroids, or would they prefer a wing that has clean ingredients?” he says.
On top of the healthy, pragmatic reasons, Huether says the improved flavor profile has him sold as well. “With these organic wings, my first comment was, ‘This really tastes like chicken.’ What that really means is the wings that are pumped slightly taste like chicken. The other thing to note is that while they’re not as pumped, they get a little bit crispier, which I prefer as well.”
This wouldn’t be the first health-forward change for the brand, which has 11 locations and currently has units in development in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Georgia, Florida, and Chicago.
Earlier this year, Arooga’s introduced its first USDA Organic menu item with an Organic Chicken Noodle Soup. It also menus no-antibiotic, steroid, or hormone-ever Wagyu Kobe Burgers, uses cage-free eggs, and had a recent limited-time offer of Dogfish Head Off-Centered Brats sourced from animals raised in low-stress environments and fed an all-vegetarian diet. Additionally, Huether says they’re starting to get a look at versions of their 30 wing sauces with the coloring removed. “We just kind of do it a little differently,” he says. “It’s kind of the evolution we’ve been doing.”
The logistics have already been thought out. Mainly, how would sourcing and inventory work? In the first case, Huether says the Lancaster farm is a subsidiary of Perdue Farms and has multiple locations on the east coast. The latter depends on whether the output is actually one or two more wings per pound. If it’s two, he doesn’t see a change in menu price occurring. If it’s one, it would be “anywhere between 25 and 50 cents.” For the operator, two could actually mean each wing becomes about 2 cents cheaper, or 10 cents more expensive if there’s only one. It’s a process they would have to roll out to truly measure.
Either way, the minimal difference isn’t playing a major role in the decision. That, Huether concludes, will be rightfully decided in the court of public opinion.