Buffalo Wild Wings to open first international stores

Chain plans to open 50 stores in Canada

Buffalo Wild Wings is venturing into the international marketplace for the first time with plans to open 50 corporate and franchised locations in Canada over the next five years.

The Minneapolis-based casual-dining chain said it expects to debut its first two Canadian locations in the spring of 2011 in the Toronto suburbs of Oshawa and Mississauga, Ontario.

Buffalo Wild Wings is planning to open more than 30 outlets in Ontario, as well as several locations in British Columbia, Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan over the next five years. Expansion into Quebec and the Maritimes is expected to follow.

“We believe Canadians’ passion for sports and chicken wings is a great fit for us and is ideal for our first international location,” president and chief executive Sally Smith said in a statement. “We have significant growth plans for this market and feel that Canadians are ready for the great food and fun, social atmosphere that we offer.”

In addition to offering Buffalo Wild Wings’ full menu, the Canadian restaurants will feature domestic beers and microbrews, and a honey-garlic sauce not available in the United States.

Mo Sawda, Buffalo Wild Wings’ senior vice president of franchising and development, said the chain would seek experienced Canadian operators, possibly for multiunit agreements.

“We can learn from them through their experience in the Canadian market, and they understand the relationship between franchisor and franchisee, so it will be a two-way street,” Sawda said.

Buffalo Wild Wings’ officials also hope to learn the nuances of the Canadian market by clustering around Toronto before expanding into other provinces. While the chain has lined up local suppliers and marketing companies for the initial openings, it will continue to build up a countrywide supply chain and marketing apparatus to enable growth across Canada.

Although other markets were considered, Buffalo Wild Wings said the similarities in the Canadian casual-dining space, as well as positive feedback from focus groups there, made the neighbor to the north the choice for beginning international expansion.

“When we looked at international growth, we looked at Canada and other markets,” Sawda said. “We felt our business would be successful in any country we go into, and Canada came all the way to the top. It’s wings, beer and sports. All three of our core values of our concept work extremely well in Canada. Fifty units gives us a good start there, and we have a higher number in mind that we’ll develop in Canada.”

Buffalo Wild Wings has grown from 35 restaurants to 680 locations in 43 states in the past 12 years. According to Nation’s Restaurant News’ most recent Top 100 report, the chain grew its systemwide sales 20.4 percent, from $1.23 billion in 2008 to $1.48 billion in 2009.

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected]