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Posted March 29, 2005 by Nick Lindauer in Hot Sauce News
 
 

Dragon Wingz heats up restaurant scene


By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

You’ve heard of concept restaurants? Two years ago, that’s all Dragon Wingz Gourmet Hot Wingz was — a concept.

Chris Andre and his wife, Terri Koleber, didn’t have any restaurant experience, but they had a plan: open a hot wings restaurant in Firestone, near where they lived, and then open another in Longmont.

“One restaurant’s a job, and with two restaurants you’re making money,” Andre said of his thinking at the time.

The couple brought in Mark Wolfe as a consultant. Wolfe had assisted with hundreds of restaurant openings during his years in the business, and had a decade of experience working with wings shops.

One of the original concepts of Dragon Wingz was to offer what Koleber calls their “mega-sauce collection” — nearly 50 different varieties of sauce to choose from.

Another part of the concept that was almost a happy accident is that Dragon Wingz uses only Maverick Ranch all-natural, free-range chicken. Credit Wolfe with that one.

A fan of one of the morning shows on Denver radio, Wolfe was attending a “Live Audience Friday” event hosted by the station, and Maverick Ranch was catering the event.

Wolfe instantly fell in love with the meat, and a few days later Dragon Wingz signed a contract with Maverick.

“They had been doing chicken for stores, but nobody would buy the wings,” Wolfe said.

Now, Dragon Wingz buys them to the tune of 800 to 1,000 pounds a week. “In football season it’ll probably jump to 4,000 pounds of wings a week,” said Wolfe, who reverently speaks of Super Bowl Sunday as “the day of all days.”

The Firestone restaurant stayed open about nine months, but the trio finally gave up on the town when they were denied a liquor license. Town fathers viewed Dragon Wingz as a fast-food restaurant and saw no need for such a place to sell cold beer.

The Longmont location, in the Fox Creek Village shopping center at 17th Avenue and Pace Street, opened last month.

The owners are hoping to make business even better after this weekend, when they and other businesses in the center host a grand opening party.

Technically, Dragon Wingz is fast food, but in the literal sense, not in the McDonald’s-Burger King-KFC sense.

“We bake it first and then we fry it,” said Wolfe. “Most wing places fry their wings to cook them. We don’t. We bake them.”

After 20 to 25 minutes of baking, the wings are put into a fryer for about three minutes to “crisp up.” After that, they are promptly coated in one of the many sauces in a variety of categories: traditional, barbecue, Asian, Caribbean, mustard, hot and even fruity.

For any sauce that rates four or five peppers on the heat scale, customers are required to taste it first, Koleber said, adding that the rule had to be put in place after too many overconfident customers ordered hot sauces thinking they could take the heat, only to discover they were out of their league.

Only two sauces, “Harold’s Dangerously Hot” and “Semper Fry,” have a rating of five peppers, but that doesn’t stop people from trying them.

“You get the posturing with the high school kids, of who can eat the hottest sauce,” Wolfe said.

“I think they’re trying out for the role of alpha sauce taster,” adds Koleber.

Part of Koleber’s job is to track down the sauce producers — offering the ones she likes shelf space to sell bottles of their sauce, as well as a spot on the menu. Magazines such as “Fiery Foods” and “Chili Pepper” are good sources, she said.

Most of the sauce brands aren’t recognizable, but that’s by design, Koleber said.

“Some of the big-name companies were not willing to come through,” she said. “I think that all of these small-business saucemakers realize that small businesses have to stick together.”

Aside from being director of operations, Wolfe also holds the title of director of franchising. The franchise concept has been there all along, he said, because of Dragon Wingz’ simple approach to its business practices.

So far, franchising inquiries have come in from Loveland, Texas and Montana, Wolfe said, adding that franchise fees are approximately $200,000 and require a 10-year commitment.

The owners are taking their time in choosing franchisees, he said, but everything from the chicken and sauce distribution network they’ve established to the method of cooking and serving the customers make it “primed for franchising,” he said.

“We took the KISS concept” — keep it simple, stupid — “to a new level,” Wolfe said.

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-684-5291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.


Nick Lindauer

 
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