Hot sauce fuels the flight of this restaurateur. Buffalo Wild Wings (BWW) operates a chain of more than 815 Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar quick-casual dining spots that specialize in serving Buffalo-style chicken wings. The eateries, found in about 40 states, offer more than a dozen unique dipping sauces to go with the spicy wings, as well as a complement of other items such as chicken tenders and legs. BWW's menu also features appetizers, burgers, tacos, salads, and desserts, along with beer, wine, and other beverages. The company owns and operates more than 315 of the restaurants, while the rest are operated by franchisees.
Typical in the casual dining industry, the BWW chain comprises a mix of corporate-run and franchised locations. Its large estate of owned and operated eateries accounts for the greatest share of the company's sales (about 90%) and allows it to maintain control over the Buffalo Wild Wings dining experience, while its franchising efforts help expand the chain with fewer construction and operating costs. Local franchise operators such as Michigan-based Diversified Restaurant Holdings typically pay the company royalties and other fees in order to use the Buffalo Wild Wings brand and marketing.
Many BWW locations are found in suburban areas, typically near established retail and entertainment developments. The concept is designed to appeal to a broad mix of customers, but the chain promotes itself as a place for groups and families to gather and watch sporting events. (Some locations have as many as 50 TV screens to give everyone a good view of the big game.) BWW competes broadly against other casual dining chains, such as Applebee's and T.G.I. Friday's (owned by Carlson Restaurants Worldwide), but within its target audience the chain faces competition from Dave & Buster's, the Fox & Hound chain of sports bars, and of course Hooters.
The company has been expanding rapidly since its 2003 IPO, when it had about 220 locations. During 2011 BWW opened more than 85 new restaurants after about 80 openings in 2010. The company is working toward the goal of eventually reaching about 1,500 locations, with plans calling for corporate-owned restaurants to make up about 40% of the chain. BWW opened its first international location in Toronto, Canada in 2011 and plans to have 50 Canadian outposts of the restaurant up and running by 2016.
Jim Disbrow and Scott Lowery opened the first Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant on the campus of Ohio State University in Columbus in 1982. (Legend has it that they started the eatery because they craved the style of chicken wings they had eaten in Buffalo, New York.) Originally called Buffalo Wild Wings & Weck (a reference to the Kimmelweck brand rolls used for sandwiches), the chain became known as BW3 for short. Rapid expansion and financial mismanagement pushed Buffalo Wild Wings to the brink of bankruptcy by the mid-1990s. Sally Smith became CEO in 1996 and helped retool the chain's branding strategy to appeal more to families and non-students. – less