As pandemic clouds begin to clear, Dickey’s Restaurant Brands is turning its six-month-old Wing Boss delivery-only virtual brand into a physical brick-and-mortar unit with full bar and seating, company executives say.
The division of Dallas-based Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants Inc. has 78 units of Wing Boss and 45 of Big Deal Burger, both virtual delivery-only brands offered to franchisees since March, when the fast-casual operators were facing pandemic restrictions on indoor dining.
The company is also working on a third virtual concept called Trailer Birds, which is expected to debut in the fourth quarter and to offer a menu of Nashville hot chicken tenders and tots.
The new 1,500-square-foot Wing Boss is scheduled to open in September in an Addison, Texas, strip shopping center, which already has a Dickey’s storefront. The physical Wing Boss will be a company-owned unit.
“We want to make sure that we work all the kinks out of it,” said Roland Dickey Jr., CEO of Dickey’s Capital Group, the parent company of the Dickey' Barbecue Pit brand and the grandson Travis Dickey, who opened the first restaurant in 1941.
Even though the Wing Boss and Dickey’s will be located near each other, the company has taken pains to distinguish the two brands.
“They're very distinct brands,” said Laura Rea Dickey, CEO of Dickey’s Restaurants, “because that's something that I think that we have learned it's so important over our 80 years of history.”
Laura Dickey added that “a lot of folks talk about fast casual. We look at ourselves as craft casual because we're really artisans. It's really a very expert focused, all centered around the pit that we do uniquely well and so I think that's what gives the concept you know its identity.”
Wing Boss’ menu relies on smoked wings that are then fried. The menu was developed by Phil Butler, Dickey’s vice president of company-store operations and culinary, and Dan Wilk, Dickey’s brand development chef. The Southern-inspired drinks offerings were created by Dan Timm, Dickey’s beverage director.
The design, which features the bar area as well as televisions for watch sports, was overseen by Jamie Henretta, creative director for Dickey’s Barbecue Pit and the virtual brands.
Laura Dickey said the Wing Boss’ “craft-casual” success relies on Dickey’s certified pit masters for smoking the protein, which plays to the brand’s strength.
“If there were a line extension … it would definitely still be pit-based,” she said. “I think there's still an opportunity possibly in tacos long term. I think that that because there's such a demand there. I think that you know everybody always happy when they have tacos.”
In addition, smoking and frying are techniques customers can’t do easily in their own kitchens, Dickey added.
“That's something that folks can't easily replicate at home,” she said. “And so I think that's also what's the staying power in wings, beyond the trend, and the staying power in burgers and fries, even as the category expands and contracts.”
The Wing Boss offers combinations and wings by the piece as well fried boneless bites and tenders. The menu also offers a wide variety of dry rubs and sauces. Side dishes included seasoned fries, coleslaw, mac and cheese, vegetable sticks and Texas toast.
Enriching the guest experience is a big advantage in turning a virtual brand into a brick-and-mortar unit, Dickey said.
“I still think a large part of the way that we come together and socialize and have that third space … that's still a big part of how folks will look to and want their favorite brands to be available,” she said.
While the virtual brands are currently offering only to Dickey’s franchisees, Roland Dickey said the company is looking at the first brick-and-mortar unit as a research project and may expand the virtual brands as stand-alone franchise opportunities.
Dickey's Barbecue Restaurants Inc. has more than 500 locations.
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