Wing It On!, a local group of restaurants offering chicken wings, burgers, salads and wraps, is looking to take flight this year by establishing franchises in Connecticut and, eventually, New England.
Owner and founder Matt Ensero opened the first restaurant in August 2011 at 516 Frost Road in Waterbury, then established a second location a year ago at 170 Main St., Watertown.
“We found a niche in Waterbury and grew organically from there,” Ensero said, adding business owners reached out to him for licensing agreements. “Wings are a hot industry.”
When asked how hot, he said his Waterbury and Oakville restaurants sold 20,000 wings this past Super Bowl Sunday.
Ensero, 29, said the Waterbury eatery covers 765 square feet, has 14 seats and employs about 12 workers. The Oakville restaurant, which serves as Wing It On!’s headquarters, is much larger at about 2,000 square feet with 22 seats and about 12 employees, he said.
He also made Wing It On’s menu available through licensing agreements at The Pourhouse Sports Tavern’s Naugatuck and Wolcott locations.
In April, Ensero, a Waterbury native who lives in Prospect, opened the group’s first Wing It On! Express location at the Sunshine Food Mart in Meriden, through a licensing agreement with the convenience store’s owner. The Express venue covers about 350 square feet, has no seats and employs seven people, hired by the store owner, Ensero said.
Ensero opened the first Wing It On! Restaurant — also known as “WIO” (pronounced Wee-Oh) — after he and his father, Donald Ensero, sold Straight A School Supplies, which they founded, to Suburban Stationers of Middletown.
“I always had the idea on the back burner, and I had the opportunity to pursue it,” said Ensero, who holds a finance degree.
He said all future Wing It On! and Wing It On! Express locations will be franchises now that his business has received its franchise license two weeks ago.
“We’re going to have them as specific models that suit specific needs,” he said.
A standard franchise will cover 800 to 1,200 square feet, have about a dozen employees and 12 to 20 seats, and carry Wing It On!’s full menu, he said.
A Wing It On! Express franchise will cover 300 to 700 square feet, employ about eight people and have four to six seats, he said.
“Why not put in something that can be high-margin?” Ensero asked, adding an express location can have a 45 percent gross profit margin. “The Wing It On! Express is suited for people looking to fill a smaller space.”
The express franchise offers a smaller menu, with wings, sides and simpler wraps and burgers, excluding Wing It On’s gourmet burgers and other, more complex items to allow for faster service, he said.
“We got rid of the bottlenecks in the menu to focus on the top sellers,” Ensero said, adding that 55 percent of Wing It On’s revenue comes from its wings. “We think it’s a model that’s going to work.”
Ensero said the “key areas” in Connecticut targeted for franchises are Bridgeport, Danbury, Norwalk and Stamford in Fairfield County; and Cheshire, East Haven, Meriden, New Haven and West Haven in New Haven County. The company is also looking at the Hartford area and Middletown as prime locations, he said.
“We want to focus on Connecticut first and let the market dictate growth before expanding into the rest of New England,” he said, adding he hopes to eventually establish franchises nationwide.
To own a Wing It On! franchise, a franchisee must invest from $59,800 to $129,100 for start-up costs, which include equipment, initial inventory and working capital, said Marc Romanow, Wing It On!’s franchise development specialist. Costs will depend on the size of the location and build-out expenses, he said.
The franchisee will also pay a royalty of 4 percent of gross monthly sales to Wing It On!, Romanow said.
In return, the franchisee receives a detailed operations manual and a marketing plan that incorporates social media and other forms of advertising, he said. The franchisee will also get two weeks of training — one week at the Oakville location and a second at the franchise location, he said.
Romanow said anyone considering franchise ownership can fill out a pre-application for information, while more serious applicants can fill out a request for consideration. Both forms are available on Wing It On!’s website, www.wingiton.com, under, “Own a WIO.”
Ownership of a Wing It On! franchise may be successful, despite competition from large chains such as Buffalo Wild Wings, said Murray Vetstein, president of the New England Franchise Association.
“If Wing It On! has what consumers are looking for, then there’s always room for another successful player,” he said.
At the same time, owners of such restaurants should be aware that flavored chicken wings may fade over time as a popular food item, Vetstein said.
“I’d be more concerned that the consumer is fickle,” he said. “What’s hot today may not be hot tomorrow.”