Five and a half years ago, Craig and Damon Burgess of Sault Ste. Marie came up with a wacky idea for family entertainment, betting their livelihood on chicken wings and the lure of a flat-screen TV. Four locations later, the brotherly duo continues to expand its Wacky Wings Eatery and Beverage Co., where simple, fun food and a lively atmosphere has become an irresistible combination for hungry customers across the province.
Chicken wings served in more than 100 flavours share space on the menu with pizza and deep-fried pickles, but it's the atmosphere that's the real attraction. Walking into a Wacky Wings location is like entering a modern-day hunting lodge, where rustic, hand-hewn furniture shares space with state-of-the-art flat-screen televisions and a sound system that could blow the comb off a rooster.
“We're just a couple of young guys,” Craig Burgess said. “We want to see people have fun, and we want to create a unique environment for our patrons and people in our communities to be able to go out and visit and have a good time.”
Wacky Wings locations are now in Sault Ste. Marie, Mississauga and Sudbury, and there are plans to expand. It's been a steady climb for the venture, which was born of an entrepreneurial spirit.
After relocating to the North from the Midland area, the brothers dabbled in a variety of entertainment ventures; coin-operated jukeboxes, car washes, pinball machines, billiard tables and a nightclub filled out their business portfolio. The success of a pair of sports bar-type restaurants, operated in Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury under the Ruckers banner, got them thinking about future opportunities.
“We did quite well with that and we saw the opportunity to change direction a little bit, and that's where we led into the Wacky Wings scenario,” Burgess said. “We sold the location we had in Sudbury at the time, and we transformed the one up here into the original Wacky Wings.”
The Lake Street location did so well, the brothers expanded with the larger Great Northern Road restaurant—identifiable by the giant, grinning chicken perched on the roof to greet patrons—which was followed up by the Mississauga restaurant and the Sudbury location, which opened this past summer.
For its first foray into the southern Ontario market, the brothers teamed up with the Playdium Corporation to enhance their restaurants' entertainment value, Burgess said. The result is what Burgess calls “the Costco of the entertainment industry.”
The concept has taken off at the 16,000-square-foot Mississauga location, which accommodates more than 500 guests and features games, three giant TV screens and more than 60 flat-panel TVs. The original Sault location is being revamped to the Mississauga model, and subsequent restaurants will be moulded in that fashion.
Whereas big-screen TVs were the main draw when sports bars first came on the scene, dropping prices have made it more affordable for the average family to recreate the experience of watching a game on the big screen at home, Burgess said. To remain competitive, Wacky Wings needed to up the ante.
“We thought, we're going to create the ultimate AV (audio visual) scenario,” Burgess said. “So, now, rather than having a good system at home, we created an even better system in the public setting. It's important to get that feel, that vibe of energy when you walk into the room.”
Appealing to a varied clientele is the chain's forte, Burgess said. It's not uncommon to do a bustling lunchtime business, followed by a family-friendly crowd at dinnertime and groups of friends coming out for drinks and wings later at night. Being “everything to everyone” is part of their business ideology.
Business is good for the Burgess brothers and growth is on the horizon. But, as with all their endeavours, expansion will take place with a thoughtful, considered approach. The brothers are looking to both Northern and southern Ontario for possibilities, and they're fielding requests regularly from across Canada and the U.S. about expansion opportunities.
“We're just taking the precautionary steps to make sure that we make all the right moves to make that further growth,” Burgess said. “Obviously there's a lot of moving parts in this business, so we need to make sure that if we're going to do it, we're going to do it properly, and we're making the steps to make sure that happens.”