Is Innovation the Secret Ingredient to East Coast Wings + Grill Franchise Growth?

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Consumer dining tastes and trends are continually shifting. Not only must a restaurant franchise keep its finger on the pulse of the economy and the competition to ensure a healthy bottom line, but it also must be able to understand and respond to customers’ changing needs and preferences. Thanks to its data-driven business model, the East Coast Wings + Grill franchise started innovating well before the pandemic upended dining habits for us all. Most importantly, the brand’s well-planned growth strategy sets franchise owners up for success—even during unpredictable times.

“You always have to innovate, or you end up becoming a dinosaur,” said Sam Ballas, CEO of the North-Carolina-based franchise East Coast Wings + Grill. “We started growing our brand on the philosophy of unit-level economics. I allow the performance of our locations to dictate opening new locations or entering new markets.”

East Coast Wings + Grill is a full-service, family-dining restaurant franchise known for its spicy wings. With 60 different award-winning wing flavors and 7 heat indexes, the menu allows guests to customize Buffalo-style wings in 420 different ways. Today, the franchise includes 34 fully operating locations, with dozens more in development. Ballas said even during the pandemic, East Coast Wings + Grill was able to thrive, thanks to the trust and relationships they’ve built with their franchisees throughout the years. “In fact, our brand had some of its best months ever during that time,” he said.

According to Restaurant News:

  • Four locations in 2021 earned more than $3 million, and one was just $65,000 from reaching $4 million.
  • 2021 check averages were up just under 10% over the blended years of 2019-20.
  • 2021 average unit gross revenue increased 18.1% over 2020, and 23.7% over blended 2019-20.
  • Take-out sales retained a 9.4% bump over blended 2019-20.

Always looking ahead, the East Coast Wings + Grill corporate office is constantly reviewing data, studying market trends, gathering feedback from its restaurant owners, and testing new concepts. Most recently, after three years of research, East Coast Wings + Grill launched its new “2.0” restaurant concept, based upon a smaller restaurant footprint and reduced staffing model. By understanding and responding to these trends, East Coast Wings + Grill learned that it could save money, build upon its strengths, boost revenue, and most importantly, please its customers—all at the same time, Ballas explained. The brand also recognizes that investing in strong customer and employee cultures keeps guests coming back.

A Restaurant Franchise That Doesn’t Believe in Just “Winging It”

Innovation requires more than just making changes and hoping some stick. Beginning as early as 2015, East Coast Wings + Grill looked at what it would need to do to stay competitive over the next decade. After reviewing the demographics and dining habits of its customer base, alcohol sales, and restaurant design—among other trends—the corporate office was ready to test an updated model in the marketplace.

In 2020, it rolled out its “2.0” prototype in Clemmons, North Carolina. Moving from a full-service casual dining layout to a smaller footprint, the 2.0 location was able to reduce development costs by 30%. It was 27% smaller than the typical 3,000-square-foot East Coast Wings + Grill design. After experiencing success with its 2.0 model prototype, in 2020, Ballas invested his own money in relocating the Clemmons location to a smaller box location that included only 14 tables and four patio seating areas. The smaller restaurant slashed development costs by $100,000 and required fewer employees and less equipment. The result: the newly reopened Clemmons store in 2021 reported a $1.61 million AUV (Average Unit Volume) and 17.3% EBIT (Earnings Before Interest and Taxes), Ballas said. The concept has since been rolled out to three other locations.

“For the Clemmons, NC location- the ratio of gross sales to each dollar invested (for the 2.0 model) is $4.6 dollars for each dollar spent on development. The brands desired bench mark is to achieve a 3:1 ratio for new units opened in 2023,” he said.

Through October 2022 brand wide tracking, East Coast Wings + Grill reports that its 2.0 re-models have experienced:

  • A 12.94% average unit EBIT *
  • $2,037,044 average unit net sales
  • A 2.70 to 1 average return on sales to investment

* a 200-250 basis point reduction due to supply chain increased costs

East Coast Wings + Grill Franchisee Recognized as Hot Investment Opportunityeast coast wings + grill franchise

Hamid Taheri spent 23 years in the fast-casual dining industry as a multi-unit operator before investing in East Coast Wing + Grill’s University of North Carolina Greensboro location, which has a smaller footprint than one of the traditional locations. Attracted to the company’s business model, Taheri first learned about the restaurant from his daughter-in-law, who had worked there. He said he enjoyed the wings as much as he believed in the concept.

“Their concept is much more workable. It’s not hard to take care of orders. The smaller menu makes it easier for students to get their food and go back to their classes,” he said.

Taheri’s location, which opened more than a year ago, sells wings, sandwiches, burgers, and chicken sandwiches. He credits East Coast Wings + Grill for conducting good research on the menu to help satisfy customers but keep food costs down. Although he initially faced some restrictions due to the pandemic, he’s confident that his commitment to food quality and hospitality will continue to help his restaurant franchise build a good reputation on campus.

“It’s a very good concept, and the corporation is enthusiastic for us to succeed, which takes the pressure off,” Taheri said.

For those considering investing in an East Coast Wings + Grill franchise, Taheri suggests that owners be open-minded and understand that you never really stop hiring. Thanks to his restaurant background, he’s had experience hiring, training, and promoting staff. His goal is to make people feel comfortable with their success and want to move up to the next level and become managers. At the same time, East Coast Wings + Grill provides the same opportunity to their franchise owners, he said.

“They give us the tools to become our own bosses and leaders in the business,” he said.

In 2022, business owners face a tight labor market and rising inflation. And although East Coast Wings + Grill isn’t immune to the effects of the economy, the innovations it’s made along the way have greatly helped restaurant owners weather the storm. The investments the corporate office has continued to make in creating a positive employee culture and a pleasant dining experience have paid off with strong employee retention numbers and high percentages of repeat customers, Ballas said.

Why Invest in an East Coast Wings + Grill Restaurant Franchise?ECW wealth building food franchise

East Coast Wings + Grill was named a top franchise on FBR’s 2022 Most Innovative Franchises list and a Top 200 Franchise. If being a part of an organization where good food, friendly hospitality, and community involvement are important, East Coast Wings + Grill might be a sizzling investment opportunity for you. As part of your due diligence, you should understand your own business and financial goals and consider how well this or any franchise business model matches your needs and expectations. Consider whether a franchise receives consistently high satisfaction scores from its franchise owners. And take time to speak with franchise owners about their day-to-day activities to help you decide if a brand is the right fit for you. It’s also important to gather all the information you can to narrow your search and be prepared for a franchise’s Discovery Day.

If you are looking at restaurant franchise opportunities, it pays to focus on the data. This not only includes franchisee satisfaction ratings, but also key company metrics, such as EBIT and AUV.

East Coast Wings + Grill Company Data:

  • Type: Full-service wing restaurant
  • Number of franchises: 34; primarily found in the southeastern part of the United States
  • Franchise fee: $40,000
  • Initial investment: $427,968 – $981,275
  • Cash Required: $200,000 liquid capital
  • Net worth: $600,000 for one unit
  • Royalties: 5%
  • National ad fund: 2%
  • Prior industry experience required: No
  • How long it takes to open a franchise: 10-15 months
  • 0 Model restaurants (18)
  • AUV = $2,037,044
  • Net Operating Income (NOI)– 12.94% (decrease due to supply chain challenges)
  • Sales to Investment – 2.70:1

For more information on East Coast Wings + Grill franchise opportunities:

Call: (336) 760-4985
Visit: East Coast Wings + Grill