Industry veteran William E. Prather today was named chief executive of the 33-unit casual-dining, sports-themed Wild Wing Café, returning to the hands-on restaurant business after several years of consulting and working on the supplier side.
Prather, the former CEO of Hardee’s and former executive with Burger King, succeeds Edna Morris, who had been acting as chief executive of Wild Wing Café since the January purchase of Wild Wing by Axum Capital Partners, a Charlotte, N.C.-based private equity firm in which she serves as managing director.
Axum said Prather will be joined by David A. Leonardo, former franchise development executive for Wendy’s, Arby’s and Burger King, as chief development officer for the Mount Pleasant, S.C.-based chain. Wild Wing Café operates 11 company-owned units and franchises an additional 22 locations in seven states and generated about $100 million in sales in 2011.
In an exclusive interview with Nation’s Restaurant News, Prather said he has eaten in all 33 of the brand’s units, and found Wild Wing well positioned against competitors.
“They [Wild Wing founders] have done an incredibly good job at promotions on the marketing side of the house, and that’s something we could better build on in terms of better establishing the brand,” he said.
Prather said Wild Wing Café will continue to exploit its entertainment features, which include live-music bands, karaoke contests and bingo or trivia nights.
“We can improve the efficiencies of the facilities,” he also said, “in terms of ergonomics and looking at every square inch of those restaurants as potentially income-producing.”
Wild Wing units range from 6,500 to 10,000 square feet, with Prather saying the “sweet spot” would be between 7,500 to 8,000 square feet. Check averages run about $17, Prather said. The sales split is about 60 percent food to 40 percent alcohol beverages, he said, with late-night a popular part of the Wild Wing business.
“Our late-night program starts around 10 to 11 p.m. on weekends,” Prather said. “Every unit, with the exception of two, has band stands, light, sound systems and all that.”
Morris, who led the executive search for Axum, said in a statement to be released early Tuesday: “We are thrilled Bill has joined our team. His extraordinary accomplishments across multiple segments in the restaurant business will be key to executing the growth vision we have for Wild Wing.”
“Edna Morris and I used to work together back at Hardee’s,” said Prather, who is on the board of a Minneapolis, Minn.-manufacturer Restaurant Technologies Inc., which sells cooking oil to the restaurant industry and extracts brown grease for bio-diesel and other uses. Prather had contacted Morris about that business, he said, and “that’s where the conversation started.” Morris and Prather worked together from 1986 to 1991.
After his posts with Hardee’s and Burger King, Prather served as chief executive of Furr’s Bishop Cafeterias from 1991 to 1994, and with El Paso Bar B Que Inc., which had 10 full-service Southwest-themed restaurants in Arizona and New Mexico from 1994 to 2010.
Leonardo will be responsible for Wild Wing’s national franchise strategy. In addition to his quick-service restaurant experience, Leonardo worked in investment banking for JP Morgan Chase in New York.
“David has built strong, sustainable franchise partnerships throughout his career for Wendy’s, Arby’s and Burger King,” Morris said.
Prather said that in franchising Wild Wing will be looking for operators that have the financial backing to operate multiple units.
“What we’d like to do is development territories,” he said. “We think that would make sense for the operators as well as us.”
Muhsin “Moose” Muhammad, a managing director of Axum and former pro football player for the Chicago Bears and the Carolina Panthers, said in a statement, “Our ability to quickly add a strong and experienced CEO such as Bill, who has a national view of the restaurant business, to the Wild Wing team reflects Axum’s vision for creating value within our portfolio companies and effectively executing our firm’s investment strategy.”
Wild Wing Café was founded in 1990 by Cecil and Dianne Crowley in Hilton Head Island, S.C. It has restaurants in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Florida. The Crowleys retain an ownership stake in the company.
The most recent Wild Wing Café opened March 9 in Cary, N.C.
Prather said that earlier in his career he spent a lot of time in Buffalo, N.Y., and became a habitué of the Anchor Bar, where the Buffalowings were popularized.
“I’ve been a heavy consumer of chicken wings for a long time,” Prather said with a laugh.