Thursday, June 13, 2024

Wild Wing Cafe quietly closes its doors

A popular wing chain that opened in 2005 has shuttered in the Landfall Shopping Center. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

WILMINGTON — A popular wing chain that opened in 2005 has shuttered in the Landfall Shopping Center. 

Wild Wing Cafe closed its doors Sunday, a few weeks after signs were posted indicating it had cut hours and was only operating for lunch. The announcement comes after a slew of Wild Wing closures in other cities recently, including Spartanburg, Charlotte and even its flagship operation in Hilton Head.

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Mike Clark, who opened the Wilmington store and left the company in 2019, said it’s due to management changes. The local operation went through a few, he said.

He started as general manager of Wild Wing, moved to a franchise business consultant and then became quality assurance manager and director of operations. Clark was with the company for eight years.

“They got some new people who came in and were trying to trim the fat to see what they could salvage out of it,” Clark said of the corporate-owned restaurant. “God bless them; they tried. But it ran its course from bad management taking over from the top.”

Wild Wing was known for its fast-casual dining experience, an emphasis on wings and three dozen flavors of sauces. It expanded its menu throughout the years, recently focusing heavily on burgers and other handhelds, such as Nashville hot chicken. 

It also was a popular spot to catch live music on weekends.

In fact, music was a large part of its foundation. Cecil and Dianne Crowley originally opened Wild Wing in Hilton Head, South Carolina in the 1990s. They grew it to seven locations within a decade before the Crowleys sold a majority of their interest to Charlotte-based Axum Capital Partnership, an investment company that also operates Back Yard Burgers. It’s partially owned by former Carolina Panther Muhsin Muhammad. Wild Wing headquarters are in Charlotte.

Musicians such as Edwin McCain, Hootie and the Blowfish, Zac Brown Band, Luke Combs and Old Dominion have played at Wild Wing chains in the South before selling out arenas. McCain credits the start of his music career to performing at the Hilton Head restaurant, even signing his first contract there.

When the pandemic hit, Wild Wing began renovating 15 of its 18 corporate stores, Nation’s Restaurant News reported. It leaned into the live music aspect, constructing larger stages and outdoor areas.

The company, listed under Aetius Restaurant Holdings LLC, also received $7.7 million in pandemic money from the Small Business Administration’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

By 2021, Wild Wing had 40 locations, a blend of company-owned operations and franchises.

At the time Wild Wing Cafe CEO Steve Weigel told NRN, “I think we could be up to 100 restaurants by 2028, and I think that’s just a small piece of the puzzle. This brand could be easily 350 restaurants across the country.”

The publication reported Wild Wing’s sales were up 5% then, with the company averaging unit volume of $3.5 million.

The company’s website notes it has stores coming to Augusta, Georgia, and Jacksonville, North Carolina. The latter was announced in 2021 and has yet to come to fruition.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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