Crawford Ker isn’t the typical restaurant entrepreneur. He’s also a former professional football player for the Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, and briefly, for the Detroit Lions.
And a lot of what he learned in the sports world, Ker noted, he applies to his Ker’s WingHouse Bar & Grill concept. The restaurants feature an all-female wait staff and cater to sports fans by showing popular emerging sports, such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and big games.
He founded the first Ker’s WingHouse in Largo, Florida in 1994, and since then has grown the company to 21 restaurants. “We’re looking forward to possibly franchising out,” he said about the future of his wing brand.
Ker recently spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about his restaurant concept, as well as his plans to grow the brand throughout Florida.
There are a lot of wing restaurants opening in the Southeast. What makes Ker’s unique?
One of our big differences is that we don’t just sell wings. We have a very varied menu. We have very good salads, and we try to add new things on each year and take off things that aren’t selling quite as well.
We tap into a lot of sports programming. I had a very big sports background before I got into the restaurant business. I was very into what people would want to see, from boxing to UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship]. We try to be relevant.
We do a lot of events, but we have very good food. Our core mission is to be building on the basics and to have oversized entrees at a great value.
Do you think you’ll expand beyond Florida in the near future?
I think Florida, corporately, is our home base. There’s still room in Florida for us to grow. We could get up to 30 or 40 stores. I used to think more was better, but now I just think better is better. You just have to be careful. You have to have moderate growth, and that’s what we’re doing.
Ker’s has an all-female, good-looking wait staff. Does that mean your target audience is men?
I think if you do we do what we do, it cuts down on your demographics a little bit, but a lot of women and families do come in.
We have an all-female wait staff. It’s similar to Hooters, but we’ve evolved a lot more than Hooters did. We compete with Hooters in different markets, and I think we’ve done very well. A lot of our managers are males and our kitchen staff are males. It’s equal opportunity. We just happen to have an all-female wait staff.
What’s next for the Ker’s brand?
We really believe in sports. We’re currently working on a smaller model called WingHouse 68 in South Florida. We’re looking to grow the brand quite rapidly in the next five years.
Tell me a bit about the WingHouse 68 concept.
It’s what we want to try to do in some small markets where we can’t get a lot of parking space for guests. WingHouse 68 a smaller model, and it could go into a lot more areas than our big model. Food-wise, it has some of the best elements of WingHouse. It’s going to be casually fast, kind of like a Moe’s. It’s going to launch at the beginning of 2013; all of the agreements are already signed. We’re looking at different conceptual plans right now.
How does your experience as a pro football player impact your business?
I think as a player you’re used to being on a team, and everyone has a structured role. It’s the same in business.
A lot of people don’t know that in pro athletics, there are a lot of meetings. We evaluate who’s your best manager, who needs improvement — it’s like business. At the end of the day, you have to win; you have to be profitable to sustain in the market place. It’s a competitive atmosphere.