“Wingstop” franchise to land in Tri-Cities

When Dave Tuthill tasted Wingstop chicken wings in Las Vegas last year, he saw a recipe for a business opportunity.

A new Wingstop restaurant in the Tri-Cities would add more flavor to the local dining scene, the Kennewick High grad thought, and he soon found partners among family and friends to invest about $600,000 for a franchise.

“Ours will be the first Wingstop in Washington,” said Tuthill, who plans to open the restaurant in mid-June in the spot formerly occupied by Wheat Montana Deli on Gage Boulevard.

Wingstop is a Texas-based chain that offers fresh–not frozen–chicken wings cooked in nine flavors with a variety of side dishes.

The proposed opening of the new eatery says something positive about our community, said Lori Mattson, president and chief executive officer of the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce.

In a tough economy, consumers and business owners need to avoid the “bunker mentality” and keep the economy going by supporting local businesses and restaurants, Mattson said.

Even in a slow economy, people like to eat out, and when they get value for their money, like they will at Wingstop, Tuthill believes, they’ll never stop coming. Because he has worked in the food industry for about 10 years, he can speak from experience.

The Tri-Cities doesn’t seem to be much affected economically, said Jeff Brown, Tuthills’ brother-in-law and partner. “You drive by all the restaurants, and they are all full,” said Brown who grew up in Las Vegas.

Both of them say they’re banking on Wingstop’s superior product to create a loyal customer base. “Once they try it, they’ll come back,” they both said. A lot of people who go to Applebee’s will be drawn to Wingstop, forecasts Ed Mulhausen, who owns Burger Ranch restaurants in Kennewick and Pasco. Fresh chicken wings will be a unique concept to the area, and that’ll help get the restaurant the initial draw, he said.

The restaurant will do alright because there’s a market for what it offers, and the Tri-Cities’ economy still is OK, compared with many areas in the country, Mulhausen said.

The quick casual segment of the restaurant industry, which is what Wingstop is, showed the strongest sales results in January, with 41 percent reporting positive same store sales, he said, quoting from the National Restaurant Association’s latest monthly report.

Wingstop customers don’t have to pay a tip, because it’s a counter service, and about 75 percent of the company’s business is take-out. That means consumers add their own drinks and side orders to enhance the value of their purchase.

The cost of an average meal will be $8 for wings, fries and a fountain drink, Tuthill said. he also plans to sell bottled beer.

Tuthill and his partners have signed a 10-year lease for the property. Gage Boulevard is a happening area, said Tuthill, who plans to quit his job as a rural carrier for the Post Office once the restaurant gets going. He’ll also hire about 20 workers for the 44-seat restaurant.

But Bacon said he’ll continue working as a driver for UPS while business takes root. He said his partners plan to open a second Wingstop in the Tri-Cities within 18 months of opening the first restaurant, he said. “I’m nervous and excited, but more excited,” Bacon said.



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