Posted November 18, 2004 by Nick Lindauer in Hot Sauce News

A wing and a prayer

MIDDLETON – Chicken wing lovers have an “explosive” new option locally with the opening today of the area’s newest chain restaurant.

Quaker Steak & Lube, 2259 Deming Way in Discovery Springs, serves everything from salads and sandwiches to steaks and ribs, but hangs its hat on its award-winning wings. The 16 varieties include the Atomic wing, which is only served to those who first sign a waiver absolving the eatery from any potential damage.

For perspective, Frank’s Hot Sauce has a “Scoville Heat Unit” rating of 3,000. Quaker Steak’s Atomic wing is 150,000, which means it is 50 times hotter.

Those who polish off an order of five Atomic wings are immortalized on the restaurant’s “Wall of Flame” and given a bumper sticker that reads, “I survived Atomic wings at Quaker Steak.”

Scott Acker, president and managing member of the Wisconsin franchise group for the Sharon, Pa.-based chain, said it’s impossible to generalize about who is attracted to Atomic wings.

“You can have this little guy who can pound down five wings and it’s no problem,” Acker said. “And another guy sitting right next to him is saying, ‘Holy cow, what did I just eat!’ I’ve heard that it’s sort of the way you eat them: If you can get them in your mouth and not get the sauce on your lips you’re much better off.”

Acker says his eyes water just from dipping his finger in the Atomic sauce for a tiny taste.

The waiver provides some indemnification for the company in case someone thinks of trying to file a lawsuit if the wings burn their mouth, Acker said.

“It’s to say that this is serious,” he said. “And it’s also a great little marketing gimmick.”

For those who want to try something hot but not quite Atomic, Quaker Steak has Suicide wings that are 30,000 SHU.

There’s also a Badger BBQ (called Buckeye BBQ in Ohio) that combines BBQ and Suicide.

“It gives you that little kick at the end,” Acker said.

Other flavors include Louisiana Lickers, a combination of hot, garlic, BBQ and Cajun, which is Quaker Steak’s most popular; Arizona Ranch, Pennsylvania Premium Garlic, Asian Sesame, and Honey Mustard.

The wings themselves are bigger than those of other chains such as Hooters and Buffalo Wild Wings, Quaker Steak says. Buffalo Wild Wings serves 12 to 14 wings per pound, Hooters nine to 12, and Quaker Steak six to eight, Acker said.

The sauces and wings have won a variety of awards, including from Chili Pepper magazine and at the annual Labor Day contest in Buffalo, N.Y., the birthplace of wings.

With its automotive motif, Acker compares Quaker Steak to other theme restaurants like Cheeseburger in Paradise and Claddagh Irish Pub in nearby Greenway Station.

“We call it family fun dining,” Acker said.

The name comes from the original restaurant, which opened on the site of what was a Quaker State station.

“It was just a bar and a little place to cook your own steaks,” Acker said.

But after the owners took a trip to Buffalo and discovered wings they started featuring them with their steaks and burgers.

“They let their customers help develop their sauces,” Acker said.

The Middleton Quaker Steak has several themed rooms, with hanging vehicles throughout. Flat screen plasma TVs fill the facility.

“Our artifacts are real artifacts,” Acker said. “We have Rusty Wallace’s Miller Lite NASCAR car from last year. We have a 1979 Corvette hanging on the wall sideways. We have auto lifts with a 1972 Corvette and a 1965 Malibu on them.”

Quaker Steak’s mascot is Giz Coop, a NASCAR driving chicken.

The 10,600-square-foot restaurant will seat around 300 and have room for another 100 in an outdoor patio in warmer months. Acker is starting with a staff of about 190.

Acker, who is based in Waukesha and is part of a firm that also franchises Steak Escape restaurants in Ohio and other parts of Wisconsin, said the Quaker Steak state franchise firm has the rights to build two other Quaker Steaks in Wisconsin and hopes to secure the franchise rights for northern Illinois as well.

“With the development of restaurants out here with Greenway and Discovery Springs we decided that it would make sense” to locate in Discovery Springs, Acker said. “The area is growing with good demographics and a stable economy.”

Quaker Steak has a dozen other restaurants, but is aiming to have more than 60 by the end of 2008, with sales growing from $50 million this year to more than $260 million by the end of 2008.

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog