Following a successful test of using its restaurants as dark kitchens for a delivery-only product, Fazoli’s is adding chicken wings to its brick-and-mortar menu starting Sept. 30.
The fast-casual Italian chain has been experimenting with chicken wing concept Wingville for more than a year. During the pandemic, the brand expanded the test to nearly a dozen locations, using its restaurants as “dark” or ghost kitchens to prepare the virtual restaurant brand. Restaurants selling wings saw sales increase by 11%, the Lexington, Ky.-based company said.
CEO Carl Howard said the return on investment for adding wings to a restaurant is realized in about four months, prompting the 220-unit chain to add the chicken wing product to its menu of Italian dishes.
“The numbers out of the gate were so strong, making the decision to launch wings company-wide this fall is a no-brainer,” Howard said in a statement.
The wings will roll out first to company stores, followed by franchise locations. The wings come in a variety of flavors including mild, medium, hot, honey BBQ, hot honey BBQ, Parmesan Garlic or Asian Chili sauce.
Prior to the pandemic, ghost kitchen facilities were popping up across the U.S., including Kitchen United, Zuul Kitchens, Epic Kitchens, Reef Kitchens, Kitopi, CloudKitchens and DoorDash Kitchens.
Spurred by the pandemic, delivery only products have surged. New ghost kitchen operators are also creating various business models such as host kitchens and licensing agreements that work like franchises.
Fazoli’s is one of the first well established brands to turn a digital only product into a featured menu item.
“Once we saw the shift to off-premise sales and the overwhelming growth of delivery, we put our foot on the gas,” Howard said in a statement. “This is a challenging time for our industry, but instead of backing down, we continued to innovate and capitalize on opportunities.”
Other brands offering delivery only products include Chili’s, Maggiano’s Little Italy, Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesday, Nathan’s Famous, Just Salad, Saladworks, Sweetgreen, Dickey’s, Smokey Bones, Chuck E. Cheese and BurgerFi.
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Updated: This story was edited to include more information on the virtual brand test.