Veteran franchisee and restaurateur Scott Slaymaker is the Co-owner of Wingers, a sports restaurant and alehouse with a family-friendly atmosphere. Working alongside his brother Eric, Scott was able to expand the franchise to multiple states by implementing and improving the strategies he’s learned from his career working at some of the best-known legacy hospitality brands.
Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:
- Scott Slaymaker shares his veteran experience in the hospitality industry
- Tips on expanding and testing new menu items
- Scott discusses the importance of catering to customer experience
- How to create a brand culture shared across management and team members
- Scott’s insights on the biggest mistakes franchisees make
In this episode…
In this episode of the SpotOn Series, join Bela Musits as he welcomes Scott Slaymaker, Co-owner of Wingers. They discuss the fascinating journey of a local brand turned multi-state franchise, ways to reliably test new menu items before launch, and the most common mistakes junior franchisees make and how to avoid them. Scott also shares important steps in creating a memorable customer experience that comes with developing a powerful brand culture across company locations.
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Bela Musits 0:20
Hello, listeners, Bela Musits is here host for this podcast, where we feature top restaurant tours, investors and business leaders. This is part of our SpotOn Series. SpotOn has the best-in-class payment platform for retail. And they have a flagship solution called SpotOn Restaurant where they combine marketing software and payments all in one. They have served everyone from large chains like Dairy Queen and Subway to small mom-and-pop restaurants. To learn more, go to spoton.com That’s spoton.com. Hey, this episode is brought to you by Rise25. We help b2b businesses get return on investment clients referrals and strategic partnerships through custom done for you podcast. If you have a b2b business and want to build great relationships with clients, referral partners and thought leaders in your space. There is no better way to do it than through podcast and content marketing. To learn more, go to rise25.com That’s rise25.com or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org Today’s guest is Scott Slaymaker. Scott and his brother Eric run Wingers restaurants, Wingers was started with the best wings recipe in the world and now has expanded to include salads, burgers, tacos, and winger brothers beer, which has resulted in consistent growth and expansion of the Wingers brand. Scott has worked in the hospitality business for over 40 years, developing and operating numerous brands. He has seen tremendous change in the evolution of the restaurant business. Welcome to the podcast, Scott
Scott Slaymaker 2:19
Bela. Thank you. Great to be here.
Bela Musits 2:21
Yeah, you’re very, very nice. Nice for you to take the time to be here with us today. So let me ask you a question. What was the inspiration for starting Wingers?
Scott Slaymaker 2:30
Oh, wow, that goes back a little bit. But prior to that it’s gonna it’s a I’m trying to make a long story short, but Eric and my father had been in the state planning business but always wanted to be was a fret or frustrated restaurant or wanted to be in the restaurant business. Eventually developed a number of Restaurant Brands was a Sizzler franchisee and Alaska Chi-Chi’s franchisee in Utah and Idaho, as well as a couple of others at TGI Fridays. And that’s really how I got involved in the business because Eric and my father was a tremendous entrepreneur, but as I like to say, couldn’t manage his way out of a paper bag in a restaurant. So he sort of nabbed me out of college and we got involved in that. So getting back to Wingers, Wingers was the idea of taking everything that we had known and providing it in a more of a tertiary market, a B market so that your Fridays, your Applebee’s, your chilies, these, these legacy brands, they wouldn’t go into because it’s simply the size was they couldn’t make the unit economics work for them. So our idea was to take take a lot of what we have learned from that and put that together in some of these smaller markets. So that’s that’s how it happened. Our first one was in Bountiful, Utah, which is a suburb if you will of Salt Lake City. I know the bountiful people will probably get mad to hear me say that but it’s just outside of Salt Lake City, but that’s really how that was really sort of the genesis I guess you might say a Winger’s.
Bela Musits 4:14
Yeah, excellent. So you kind of carved out your own geographic niche from a graphic perspective. Yeah,
Scott Slaymaker 4:20
correct. Our attitude was we didn’t want to go on to big regional malls and compete head to head with these guys. It didn’t make sense. But we did feel like there was an opportunity in some of the smaller neighborhood markets to go in and and make a mark. And, you know, I think it’s fair to say that it’s been relatively successful for us.
Bela Musits 4:38
Yeah, excellent. So what were those early days like?
Scott Slaymaker 4:42
Oh, wow. Well, it’s interesting. Let me tell you that you know, Wingers and today actually the full name is Wingers restaurant and Ale House, but that is a far stretch from where Wingers was when we started. Where’s actually the first one And our brother in law had this great recipe for a sauce. We played with the wings. We ended up bringing in a Pullman train car, put it on a piece of property in Salt Lake City, it was really sort of a beta test, I guess you might say. It was not full service. The Winger’s. wiggers is full service casual dining today, it would be what you would consider fast casual at the time where you had a counter and actually started as calling it California at sea and our California because that’s where our brother in law, who at the time and partner with us had come from CNR stood for chicken and ribs, and we had some great chicken and ribs. And that was really what started with it. The lease we had, again with the developer, he had told us we had a year to year lease because he had eventual plans for developing. So when we finally after, I don’t know what it was five or six years got the word that we had to vacate. We thought we had something we like what it was doing. And so the first actual Winger’s was established in Bountiful, Utah. So that’s, that’s a long story to get us to where to where we started.
Bela Musits 6:14
Yeah, well, that’s that’s a great story. And so when, when, what year was the first winter started
Scott Slaymaker 6:21
the first actual Winger’s opened in Bountiful, Utah in September of 1993.
Bela Musits 6:28
Got it. Got it. So when you were starting this original pre Wingers restaurant that was sort of in a Pullman car, how did you know that you had the right recipe, if you will, to actually, you know, take this and turn it into ringers? What were the what were the metrics that told you, Hey, we got something here.
Scott Slaymaker 6:47
You know, I’d like to say that we had all sorts of data and everything else, but at the end of the day, what it was was people just loved it. We were fairly adjacent to downtown Salt Lake City, we had all kinds of Utah Jazz NBA players that would come in and buy wings, Shaquille O’Neal came in and bought wings. In fact, it was fun because in the old Pullman car, they died states sign their names up on the walls and stuff, you know, that sort of stuff. So that’s kind of where we got the idea that you know, this is resonating somewhere people are liking that. We would have a number of NBA players when they would visit Salt Lake to play the Utah Jazz would would come to Wingers and and again, I don’t want to represent that it was this, you know, beautiful. This was an old Pullman train car for hexane. We stuck a counter and a kitchenette and a couple towels. So it very humble beginnings. Let’s say that.
Bela Musits 6:54
Well, it sounds like it had a lot of character.
Scott Slaymaker 7:46
It had character. There’s no question about that. Yes, sir.
Bela Musits 7:50
Right, right. So over the years, you’ve expanded the menu. So how do you know when it’s time to add menu items?
Scott Slaymaker 7:59
Wow, you know that that’s such a great question. And you know, it reminds me I was a panelist at a recent conference in Nashville, Tennessee and somebody brought up the the statement that I love I wrote it down and I still use it is the restaurant business is simple. Simple is hard. And I love that because it speaks in my mind to certain menu disciplines and coming from a background of I think I said TGI Fridays, Chi-Chi’s, Sizzler, prior to that, Tony Roma’s, we had 16 Tony Roma’s at a time, one of the biggest challenges we always have, particularly with, for example, TGI Fridays, whose menu was voluminous, is what sort of menu discipline Do you have? Because the more items you have on the menu, the more clear convoluted things can get, the more inventory you carry, the more prep there is, everything just kind of builds on that. So we did know that when we lost our lease on the California CNR. And we had decided that we wanted to be in the casual dining and do a full service experience, that we weren’t going to be able to do that just with wings and ribs that were basically packaged for takeout. So that’s what it started. But again, it was very simple. It was a placemat menu that sat in front of you. And we probably had 20 items, we expanded doing some, some burgers, a couple of very simple salads and whatnot. And, you know, over the years, that has expanded and in fact, particularly since the pandemic and that it has contracted quite a bit as well, due to supply chain issues and simply just trying to simplify, you know, what we do because of the lack of staffing that everybody’s dealing with, and continues to deal with.
Bela Musits 9:53
Right? Right. So how do you how do you sort of test a new menu item?
Scott Slaymaker 9:59
That’s actually Great question. You know, the first thing that we do is we have a our Director of Operations, Patrick Detener, is a is a certified chef. And so one of the things that we really like to do is to think in terms of a somewhat of a chef driven menu that is very simple to produce. Because, as you know, the, the more you proliferate in numbers, the bigger challenge it is in maintaining that consistency, which is was so important. But the first thing we do is we actually test it in one or two of our restaurants, we may test it in a market. For example, we have one restaurant in Pocatello, Idaho that is relatively isolated, if you will. So we’re able to put something on the menu there and sort of track and see what happens, see what part of see what kind of menu share we can get. See what happens when you market versus not marketing it. But that’s typically the way we like to do it. But then, you know, getting back to menu discipline on the simplicity, one of the questions we ask ourselves in the leadership team meeting them is if this is going to make it to the menu, what are we going to take off the menu and trying to keep that and that’s where one of the biggest challenges, not just us, but I think any restaurant tour has because everybody wants to please their guests. And you know, you have one guest that comes in and said, you know, you gotta have a spaghetti sandwich or something like that. And the first, the gut reaction is, oh, my gosh, we got a rush to do this sort of thing. We really like to try to be data driven, and prove that actually it sells, while at the same time being believable for the brand.