Wild Wings Cafe opens in Columbus Park Crossing
The wait for the Wild Wing Cafe at Columbus Park Crossing is over, with construction, hiring and practice runs for cooking food and serving it up to customers now in the staff’s rearview mirror.
The doors of the $3.4 million restaurant at 6525 Whittlesey Blvd. swung open to hungry diners at 5 p.m. Friday following a brief ribbon-cutting moment involving Wild Wing Cafe Chief Executive Officer Tom Lewison and Mayor Teresa Tomlinson.
“This will be the 39th restaurant in seven different states, and we’ve done comprehensive strategic development planning through large real-estate companies to target where we think Wild Wing Cafe would fit the best,” Lewison said. “As soon as we saw Columbus, Ga., we started looking at the demographic information and all Columbus had to offer, we knew this would be the right spot for our concept.”
Tomlinson thanked the restaurant company for having faith in the city and seeing it’s “potential,” with the entrance of Wild Wing Cafe into the market leading to 160 service-related jobs, individuals who will earn a paycheck at the eatery as they serve customers.
“A lot of times what people miss is it’s the local owners and it’s the restaurants and the small businesses really making things happen and propelling our economy forward,” she said.
Columbus businessman Sanjay Choudhury is part of the local ownership that brought Wild Wing Cafe to the city. The restaurant is adjacent to Hobby Lobby and just behind Pep Boys auto shop. He expressed excitement and happiness over the big moment finally arriving.
“The last three days we had like a dry run, a VIP night last night and a couple of other nights,” he said. “Actually, the kitchen timing was really perfect and the food turned out to be excellent. Everybody’s excited and know what they’re doing in the front of the house and the back of the house. So I’m pretty comfortable right now.”
There will be more on Choudhury’s plate in the future. He said a groundbreaking will be held in early 2016 for a Wild Wing Cafe in Auburn, Ala., at the Tiger Town exit off Interstate 85. He also is planning another location in Newnan, Ga., at some point.
But on Friday, Choudhury was simply digesting the opening of the Columbus eatery, which has a seating capacity of 350 people with its deck. The restaurant also will be looking to carve out its niche — a family-oriented restaurant through the early evening transforming into a nightclub of sorts until closing well past midnight.
The first act on the grand-opening menu Friday was Phenix City’s Garrett Miles, a blind country music performer who made it the Hollywood rounds of the “American Idol” competition earlier this year.
Entertainment will be a major component of the 5,700-square-foot restaurant, with acoustic musicians performing at times and comedy nights to be scheduled in the future, along with live-band karaoke.
Of course, there are plenty of high-definition TV screens inside the venue, 44 of them to be exact, which will be tuned often to sports. This weekend alone could be a bonanza for Wild Wing Cafe and other local sports bars, with three major Southeastern Conference football games being televised Saturday in succession — Auburn at LSU, South Carolina at Georgia and Ole Miss at Alabama. The Atlanta Falcons battle the New York Giants in an NFL clash Sunday.
“It’s going to be crazy,” said Wild Wing Cafe general manager Dennis Butterfield, who has been pulling the pieces together to get the restaurant off and running successfully. It’s the first time he’s opened a large eatery from scratch, although he is a veteran of the food wars, having managed local Applebee’s and Ruby Tuesday restaurants, and also owning his own Butterfingers Crazy Chicken outlet for a decade.
Asked if his latest experience has been a challenge or fun, he responded that it has been a little of both.
“The challenging part is getting it right so it can be fun. That’s the process,” Butterfield said. “There’s a lot of work that’s got to be done before you can have the fun. But once it’s done, you just let it go.”
The cafe ramped up hiring heading into the opening, ultimately hiring the 160 employees, including five managers. With the constant churn of workers leaving and arriving, the employee search process will be continuous, he acknowledged.
Wild Wing Cafe is a concept launched in 1990 in Hilton Head, S.C., and is in a growth mode, Lewison said, with four stores opened so far this year. “Hot wings, cold beer, good times” is the chain’s motto. The menu includes, naturally, chicken wings — 33 flavors in all. But handmade angus burgers, ribs, chicken tenders, shrimp skewers, sandwiches and salads round out the food offerings. There also will be 35 types of beer available.
Wild Wing Cafe joins a restaurant row at Columbus Park Crossing on the city’s north side, most of the chain variety. Other full-service operators there include Cheddar’s, Red Lobster, TGI Friday’s, Chili’s, Olive Garden, Carrabba’s, Jim Bob’s Chicken Fingers, Smokey Bones, Red Robin, Shogun Japanese Steakhouse and Buffalo Wild Wings.
The plentiful competition doesn’t phase Lewison.
“Wild Wing Cafe isn’t just Wild Wing Cafe for the sake of the name,” he said. “We throw real big parties and we like to have fun.”