Wings & Wall Street

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On August 13th, 2007 Rick took a leap of faith and opened his take-out style restaurant, “Wings Plus.” In an effort to once again make a decent living, he invested every last dime from the sale of his house, after downsizing, into a small storefront in Port Washington, NY, located on the North Shore of Long Island.
At the time of opening, Rick was also in process of selling his family sports bar, located in Bayside, Queens, which had been in the family for over 60 years.
“It was a tough time. I had no income. My brother and I were selling our family bar, which at one point had been the pride of my family, and I was pouring every last one of my pennies into a new business. Not to mention that the economy wasn’t looking too hot.”
But Rick saw a hole in a community filled with just pizza parlors and Chinese take out.
“The Buffalo Wings were the claim to fame at our bar. People went crazy for them. I figured, why not bring em to the island?”
This was at a time when Buffalo Wild Wings had not reached the east coast quite yet, and chicken wing chains were not really on the radar yet. He came up with “Wings Plus,” meaning they of course had chicken, but also a whole lot more. Hence the “plus.”
It seemed like a win-win. Keeping a piece of the old family business alive while creating a new legacy to start supporting his wife and child again.
“It was a bittersweet time. I was sad to have to lay my father’s business to rest, one that I had run with my siblings for over 20 years. But it was what needed to be done. And I was excited to venture into something new with a long-time friend, who I was able to secure as an equal partner. Together we put in about $250,000 to create Wings Plus.”
The first six months of being open went extremely well. He hired a decent staff, pulled over some cooks from the old sports bar and within a month, he felt they had found their groove. The fall season brought in all of the football fans ordering for their Sunday games, and Super Bowl Sunday brought in unimaginable sales. The community seemed to like the new establishment, and Rick noticed quite a few repeat customers coming through the doors.
By the end of the first year they were closer than projected to breaking even. Rick and his partner were very pleased, and if things had continued the way they were going they would have made back their investments by the end of the second year. But unfortunately things did not go as planned. The fall of 2008 was rough for Wings Plus.
“The only thing that carried us through that fall and the beginning of winter, was football Sundays. Even with those, cash flow was extremely low.”
Rick noticed a major change in how people were paying. Customers were starting to use their credit cards way more frequently then before. He said it went from being about 50% cash business to around 25% cash business. Not to mention that sales seems to be declining each month.
Discouraged after a less than stellar year, Rick and his partner were left wondering if they had made a big mistake. Part of the reason they chose to open up in Port Washington was because of the amount of wealth in the community. The median household income in Port Washington is approximately $109,000, a little more than double the national media household income. It is an extremely wealthy community, with many of its community members being business people who commute and work in the Financial District in Manhattan. But that does not mean they weren’t feeling the effects of the 2008 recession.
“It was clear that something was going on. People were not spending money. Average order amounts were way down. Customers began questioning prices. And on top of all that, the price of chicken was going up.”
By the end of year 2 they were forced to raise prices, which definitely turned off some people, but it was essential to their survival at that moment in time.
Rick and his partner decided to invest in some marketing and promotions at the start of year 3. They put out various coupons in local papers and pennysavers, tested out some deals on Groupon, and created an email rewards program. While year 3 was still pretty slow, their investments in marketing paid off, and they decided to go for year 4. By this point, they were extremely close to breaking even, and mid-year 4, Rick and his partner finally saw the return.
Currently Wings Plus is doing just fine. Of course it has not been completely smooth sailing, but Rick is proud to have made it through such a horrible recession, and has come out with a profitable business. He is hoping to open up a second Wings Plus in 2016.
But Rick is a little worried about the future. New York seems to be pushing for a $15 an hour minimum wage. This would be catastrophic to Wings Plus.
“Most of my workers are part-time students. I pay my cooks well, but there’s no need to be paying my counter people who work 5-hour shifts at a time, $15 an hour. I already pay them above minimum wage. That would be the end of Wings Plus.”
In the meantime, Rick is planning to move forward with opening a second location, and looks forward to creating a Wings Plus legacy.

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