Lexington, KY – Being a fast food entrepreneur means overcoming obstacles and challenges, and for some, those business and life hurdles are greater than for others. Mike Tackett, who along with his partner Greg Laswell is the local Wing Zone franchisee, is a great example of this.
Last year, this local franchisee organization relocated its store and opened another one. They now have two locations in the Lexington market: one on Southland Drive and the other on Eureka Springs Drive. These locations give them substantial coverage in the Fayette County market. About 20 percent of their business is take-out and 80 percent is delivery, with a substantially large delivery territory. In a period of economic downturn, Tackett and Laswell saw an opportunity to grow and expand, and they did just that. However, the story of this business starts many years back on both a local and a concept level.
Tackett was born and raised in Lexington. He has a love for food and attended the Johnson and Wales Culinary School, achieving a degree in food service management. He worked for a local food service entrepreneur and then, along with lifetime friend Laswell, became the second franchisee of Atlanta-based Wing Zone (www.wingzone.com). Tackett and Laswell worked hard to build their business at their original location on Waller Avenue. However, sometimes life throws you an unexpected challenge.
More than two years ago, Tackett had spent the day playing one of his best rounds of golf in years with friends. He was feeling great after the fold, but when he arrived home, he felt a pain in his side that only got worse. After some medical tests, he learned the devastating news that he had cancer.
He fought the disease and, after several operations, conquered this challenge. He is now cancer-free. As he rebounded from this experience, he also recognized the opportunity to grow his business. He recovered, kept focus on his business and doubled the brand’s footprint in the attractive Lexington market.
Wing Zone is a great example of the type of business that has a tightly focused concept. This concept has an efficient real estate and store footprint with a menu that can be executed efficiently but is broader than one might expect. Wing Zone has 15 flavors that change and evolve over time to adapt to market tastes. The core product is, of course, chicken wings, but other products are available, such as chicken fingers, sandwiches, desserts and more.
Because all Wing Zone’s business is take-out or delivery, there is no seating. They cook their products to order, which helps ensure high quality and freshness. Customers can also go to Wing Zone’s website and place orders online.
Wing Zone was founded in 1991 by University of Florida students Matt Friedman and Adam Scott, who cooked wings with their own homemade sauces in their fraternity house and delivered them to fellow college students. They eventually opened their own stores, and in 1999, they began franchising. The concept now has nearly 100 locations and is in growth mode.
The product we know as chicken wings, or Buffalo wings, has an interesting history, including a little known local aspect. Chicken wings were created in 1964 at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, N.Y., by owners Teresa and Frank Bellisimo when some friends came into the bar for a late- night snack. Teresa Bellisimo improvised on the fly, using what she had, and served them chicken wings sprinkled with hot sauce, accompanied by some celery sticks with blue cheese dressing. There are a couple of other versions of the story, but all credit Teresa Bellisimo with the creation.
For the next 10 years, Buffalo wings were primarily a local item, although it slowly migrated to other areas such as Boston and south Florida.
In 1969, the first Long John Silver’s opened in Lexington, Ky., and one of their original menu items was the “Peg Leg,” which was basically one-half of a chicken wing. At that time, that portion of a chicken had low demand and use relative to other parts of the chicken. The product could be purchased inexpensively and priced to the consumer attractively.
By the mid- to late 1970s, Buffalo wings began to take off on a national level, and the popularity accelerated in the 1980s. One effect of this was that it made that portion of the chicken less of a byproduct, and chicken suppliers adjusted their prices upward due to the new market demand. Long John Silver’s adapted by switching from Peg Legs to chicken tenders and called them Chicken Planks to adhere to their pirate theme.
However, if you still prefer chicken wings, Wing Zone is ready to deliver.