Given Wing n’ It’s aviation iconography, saying the business is taking off comes across as a little corny.
But with the St. John’s-based chicken wing restaurant franchise about to open its fifth location — not even two years after its flagship location on Bates Hill downtown — it’s difficult to avoid.
Kim McFarlane, one of four partners — along with husband Glen McFarlane and friends Dave Deane and Sonia Ciccone — who opened the original spot in February 2011, said the idea grew out of their time in Ontario, where Deane and Ciccone operated a Wild Wing franchise in Innisfil for several years and befriended the McFarlanes.
“We moved from Ontario four years ago. We are from Newfoundland, and we were gone for 17 years,” said McFarlane.
“We always said this would really take off in Newfoundland. Any place you ever go to up there, there’s wings. There’s a whole bunch of places up there.”
Deane and Ciccone told the McFarlanes they’d be happy to put their restaurant experience to use in Newfoundland, so when Kim McFarlane was transferred to Newfoundland at her old job — the restaurant is now her full-time career — they decided to fill a wing void in the Newfoundland restaurant market.
Twenty-one months after opening, there are four Wing n’ Its in Newfoundland: in addition to downtown St. John’s, there’s one on Kenmount Road, one in Gander and one in Grand Falls-Windsor. A Bay Roberts location is due to open within two months, and there are outlets coming in Corner Brook and Clarenville in the next six months.
The company is also fielding interest from potential franchisees in other provinces in Atlantic Canada and beyond.
“We have an inquiry right now that we’re working on for Moncton, one for Charlottetown, P.E.I. We have one for Goose Bay, we have one for Halifax. We have three inquiries out west.”
McFarlane says she expected the restaurant to do well — it’s the speed at which it has that surprised her.
“Of course in your heart and your soul, you just want it successful,” she said. “To the magnitude that it has taken off, uh-uh. We wanted it to. After a couple of months, people were starting to know that we were here. We felt the interest, we got inquiries. People ask us, ‘Is this a franchise that you bought from the mainland?’ No, this is something that we created, and we got consultation on how to do franchises, and lo and behold, here we are. It’s exciting to see, because it’s a unique restaurant.”
“Here we are” is a franchise that goes through, McFarlane estimates, 2,600 pounds of wings a day among all four locations, and is looking at $3.4 million to $3.6 million in sales this year, about $2 million more than last year. The restaurant draws on flavours the owners tried and experimented with, as well as Deane and Ciccone’s experience — especially since the McFarlanes have a construction company that builds the restaurants.
“As we move, we’ve found that each location, there’s a tweak, a little bit of a better tweak to our build,” said McFarlane. At this point, the biggest worry may be spreading too soon too quickly — but McFarlane shakes that off.
“We’re not afraid. We have all of our means in place,” she said.
“Our franchisee is our No. 1 priority, and our name. We make sure that our company is represented well and making sure all the processes are done, and our policies and procedures. So we’re not afraid. Absolutely not.”
Ciccone, on the phone from Ontario, where she and her husband Deane still live, said she was also surprised by how rapidly the province has taken to their business.
“Dave and Glen sat down, and they had a lot of conversations and visions about where they expected to be, and I think they knew that it was going to take off. They knew it had to come to Newfoundland,” she said.
“The only thing that surprised us was how fast it took off. It’s still unbelievable to us. But we knew that Newfoundland had nothing like it, and that people would definitely be receptive to it.”
She said talks between the couples of opening up a restaurant in Newfoundland was a pipe dream at first, but one that quickly became reality.
“(They said) ‘If you guys ever sell, come to Newfoundland and open one up,’” she said. “Then, that literally happened. We sold in 2010, and then a couple months later Dave drove down to Newfoundland, and it all started.”
With restaurant, construction and human resources experience behind them, the four partners complement each other well, said Ciccone.
“We each bring a lot of experience to the table,” she said.
Deane and Ciccone don’t currently plan to move to Newfoundland, but there are frequent visits — and constant communication.
“We’re on BBM, we’re emailing, we’re constantly talking to one another, and then when we’re out there, we’re like four kids in a candy store. It’s a good partnership. I’m sure we’re bound to make some mistakes along the way — that’s natural in business — but I think that our experience will definitely help us avoid a lot of them.”