Mount Pleasant-based Wild Wing Cafe plans to triple its number of restaurants across the Southeast over the next five years, CEO Bill Prather said Thursday.
Nearly 16 months after being acquired by private equity firm Axum Capital Partners, bringing on former Hardee’s CEO Prather and assembling other top officials, the casual dining chain plans to grow from 34 restaurants to 100 by 2018.
Five new restaurants are planned by year’s end in Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and South Carolina, including one in Summerville on U.S. Highway 17-A in Berkeley County. Wild Wing currently has four locations in the greater Charleston area.
“For one year and four months we have been working to position the company for dynamic growth, working with existing restaurants and franchise operators,” Prather said. “We have now gotten interest from some major franchise players who have the financial and operational wherewithal for multiple units.”
The company brought on Miami-based David Leonardo, formerly with Wendy’s, Arby’s and Burger King, as its chief development officer; former Planet Smoothie president and Hooters executive Bonnie Rhinehardt as chief operating officer; and Debra Stokes as chief marketing officer. Stokes formerly worked as chief of digital and social media with Gannett.
Wild Wing started on Hilton Head Island in 1990, the brainchild of Cecil and Dianne Crowley. They sold the then-32-unit chain in early 2012 to the Axum. It now operates in seven states.
“We are trying not to get away from our heritage and play upon the strengths of the company,” Prather said.
He expects the company to solidify its base across its existing territory and expand more into Florida, Texas and Tennessee, where there are just one of two Wild Wing restaurants.
Prather said the Axum’s financial backing is key to the growth plan.
“It’s well-capitalized,” he said. “It’s the difference between being privately held and a private equity company.”
Axum Capital Partners includes, among others, former National Football League star Mushin Muhammed and Edna Morris, a 30-year restaurant industry veteran who has held top posts at Red Lobster and Quincy’s Family Steakhouse.
Wild Wing is planning a new scaled-down prototype restaurant of about 6,500 square feet with increased efficiencies in the kitchen, less idle space in the dining room, brighter colors inside, an exterior overhaul and stage space for live music shows. Prather expects the changes to eventually be incorporated in the existing restaurants.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.