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Wing Snob, based in Detroit, was founded in 2017 and began franchising in 2018, but didn’t see exponential growth until the past two years.

Wing Snob wants to compete with Wingstop one day

How this emerging wing restaurant thinks it can be the one to rise in the segment

During the pandemic, there were two clear winners in the food space: pizza and wings. The largest wing brand, Wingstop, has managed to turn that success into even more in the years since lockdown.

With the popularity of wings came the emergence of both growing and new wing-focused restaurant chains capitalizing on the momentum through growth.

Wing Snob, based in Detroit, was founded in 2017 and began franchising in 2018, but didn’t see exponential growth until the past two years. It ended 2023 with 41 locations and began 2024 with over 100 units in the pipeline.

Co-founders Jack Mashini and Brian Shunia saw an open restaurant space and instantly knew they wanted to cook wings.

“I really believe there’s a need for more competition,” said Mashini. “When you talk specifically QSR chicken wings, the behemoth is Wingstop… no one [else is] really doing what they’re doing on a big level.”

Wingstop finished 2023 with 1,926 units — 11.9% growth year-over-year — and $3.2 billion in sales — a 27.0% increase year-over-year, according to Technomic Ignite data. Chicken chains with comparable numbers have a broader focus than just wings, proving that there is still a strong desire amongst consumers for wings, and only one restaurant in the mix.

“When you look at the burger space or the sub sandwich space or any other space in general, there are 500 different players in the game, and quite a few of them are quite large,” Mashini said. “We don’t have that in the chicken-wing concept space on the QSR side of things.”

While dozens of emerging chicken-wing brands have started to grow, it’s not nearly as competitive as other segments at the top level.

Wing Snob is standing out from the pack and growing because of its franchising strategy.

The chain is only partnering with multi-unit franchisees who are looking for a wing concept in their portfolio, and Mashini thinks the brand has seen such an increase in franchisees because the wing space is so small but pays off with large returns.

Wing Snob’s proprietary training portal, Wing Snob University, helps new franchisees learn the ropes of operating the brand since wings may be a new product to them.

“We give them the tools even though it's very simplified,” said Mashini. “A lot of these franchisees come in and say, ‘this is all you guys do’? It's almost laughable how simplified it is, but it works very well.”

Part of that is because the menu is simpler than at many other concepts. The main item, wings, takes up most of the menu. All other items on the menu use the same sauce options as the wings, making it operationally simple.

Wing Snob doesn’t do too many LTOs, either.

“We’re always rolling out new flavor profiles with different dry rubs and sauces,” Mashini said. “We’re adding a few new sides just to add to our side category. But overall, our menu is our menu. We want to simplify it and keep it simplified because we’ve seen that it works in [all of our] stores thus far.”

Sauces, though pretty consistent on every menu, vary by region and Mashini was quick to note that the trends across the country tell an interesting story.

Texas prefers something spicier, and the Midwest goes for a barbecue.

“As we jump into these new markets, we’re always adjusting different flavor profiles to offer,” he said.

The sauces are also a place for experimentation because “chicken is chicken,” Mashini said. Not that that’s a bad thing. Wing Snob sources quality product and has suppliers in every market it opens in. But, at the end of the day, the difference is in the sauces.

Since Wing Snob doesn’t have a corporate chef in place, Mashini said he and his partners have a better chance to hop on trends as they’re happening rather than months or years later, like he says big chains with R&D departments have to do.

“Relevancy, that’s what it’s about,” he said.

And the name? If you guessed it was because of the quality of the chicken or the sauces, you’d be wrong.

Before opening, the team was putting together a list of names they thought sounded cool, and when they hit Wing Snob, they liked it instantly. The name wasn’t trademarked and when they got that sign, they started the brand.

Mashini has advice for restauranteurs and franchisees alike: “Go to work and have fun. That’s what we do. I wake up every day and there's always something new coming up. It's an adventure on the regular.”

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