NFL Player Entrepreneurs Succeeding on the Restaurant Scene

In Role as Entrepreneurs, NFL Players Specialize in a Familiar Fowl

Shawntae Spencer is one of a Wingstop's investors with deep roots in the National Football League. He partnered with the Richardson, Texas-based chain to open 15 restaurants in the Greater Pittsburgh area.

Recipe for success

Wingstop boasts a robust 575 locations which saw 13 percent increases in same store sales, opened 57 stores last year alone, and has financial commitments to open nearly 400 more in the U.S., Mexico, Singapore and Russia. But not every entrepreneur is sold on the idea that Wingstop is the key to success in the chicken business.

Frank Rice, who had a cup of coffee in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Bucs, helps run his family’s Popeyes stores. And Kamerion Wimbley, who just signed a multi-year deal with the Tennessee Titans, just opened a family-style restaurant called Wings N’ Things. It’s in his hometown of Wichita, Kansas.

So determined was former NFL defensive end Raheem Brock to diversify his Wingstop menu, he cut ties with Wingstop and reopened his restaurant as Brock’s Wings. Last year, he stripped away the franchise’s signage. Brock says he was frustrated with the level of flexibility. The transition, which happened early last year, brought him more control and allowed him to make more additions to the menu. He now serves seafood, salads, pizza and a selection of beer and wine.

“It was a process, but we knew we wanted something for everyone.”

They also wanted to be able to deliver on the Temple University campus, where Brock is an alum.

“Franchising was kinda tough,” Brock continues. “If I had to do it differently I would have done more research, more homework. The hardest part was getting the right manager that I could trust. He worked with a lot of family and the family thing just never works. It was a tough process, to be stuck in somebody’s rules and you can’t bend them or they’ll penalize you. I don’t have to pay an annual fee to anybody, so that’s great.”

Spencer said he heard of Brock’s issues with his franchise, and says that many entrepreneurs will do well to hire consulting agencies that handle logistical issues that arise.

“You hear success stories and horror stories, and that’s with any business,” Spencer says. “Certain risks are eliminated through the infrastructure of the franchise, so really it becomes about having the right people in place and having the operations component set. If they’re not operating well it’s going to be very difficult to expand.”

Costs rise, but so does demand

Wings, a broiler chicken’s most expensive and succulent part, became more expensive than ever earlier this year. Wing prices soared to 14 percent on the eve of the Super Bowl. The Wall Street Journal cited a report by the National Chicken Council which said 1.23 billion segments were to be consumed at parties and restaurants for the Super Bowl.

The high cost of wings is deterring some entrepreneurs from putting all their bones in one basket. Others, like Rice and Spencer, believe in the appeal the Wingstop brand has to  blacks and working-class Americans — a fact that’s not lost on the company’s CEO.

“What’s unique about Wingstop is our appeal is greater to Hispanics, African Americans and Asians than it is to Caucasians,” CEO Charlie Morrison told the Dallas Business Journal earlier this month. “So, if you look at where our restaurants are located, usually the demographics fit a stronger ethnic mix than most brands. It’s also very young, and it actually skews to women. However, our marketing historically has not been such that it appeals to that population.”