Kings of Wings: The Lucas Brothers Win with East Coast Wings
“We just went for it,” Seth Lucas, co-owner of five East Coast Wings restaurants says. Purchasing his first location in February 2009 with his younger brother Jared, the pair has since been taking the North Carolina by storm, opening a new location in each year to follow.
Growing up in Gaithersburg, MD, the brothers have shared an interest in the restaurant industry from an early age. Parting ways through their college years, Jared moved to Griffen, NC where he began working as a salesman, all the while his passion remaining in the restaurant industry, with which he had been involved since the age of 15.
After graduating from Chowan University with a degree in Business Seth also joined the restaurant scene. Employed as a waiter in a local, full service, chain called Hams, he quickly moved up the ranks to become General Manager of the restaurant, which also featured an onsite brewery. Enjoying the lively atmosphere the industry offered, in 2008 the brothers decided they wanted to “do their own thing,” and began looking into launching their own restaurant.
“We thought about doing it ourselves but knew we if found the right company we could do well,” Seth says. “The support a good franchise will give a franchisee is amazing.” Cultured with the knowledge the pair needed to operate a restaurant, the Lucas’ knew what to look for in a good company. Then one day, while visiting his in-laws in Winston Salem, NC, Jared stopped in a neighborhood East Coast Wings and was blown away with the experience.
Sharing his findings with Seth, he too looked into the brand and instantly fell for the concept. Boasting a southwest feel and furnished with dark wood and beautiful bars, the art accented walls, televisions for sports fans and dynamic energy create a “high end” feel in the causal-dining wing restaurants.
Filling out the franchise application and piecing together the required documents, the brothers felt the East Coast Wings model was right for them. “We pulled the trigger before we even had the money set in stone, we figured we would go for it and hope for the best,” Seth says.
After receiving the FDD from East Coast Wings the brothers attended a Discovery Day and worked a shift in an existing restaurant to get a feel for the business. Next was time to decide on their location. Both wishing to open shop close to where they were settled with their young families, Greenville was the perfect middle ground to get started. However, at this same time Greenville was seeing many new restaurants quickly rise and fall, and the closest East Coast Wings was located three hours away from Greenville; both daunting factors. Nonetheless the Lucas’ were not deterred from pushing forward in the Greenville area. Opening their first location in a shopping center equip with a busy movie theater, their strategy was to bring people in this way, or at the very least get their name out there.
“The first six months were tough,” Seth explains, “East Coast Wings was a young company at the time, and our families were depending on us to do well. We had a very soft opening, but in the long run it helped us grow and was key to being successful.”
Looking back on their run so far, Seth says what sold the company was their winning six-page menu featuring 75 flavors and 675 combinations of buffalo wings, burgers, salads, sandwiches and more. Meeting with Sam Ballas, CEO and President, the Lucas’ immediately felt a family vibe and admired their involvement with the business. “At that time there were less than 12 East Coast Wings locations, but Sam set out to make sure we would make money, not just for them, but for us too” Seth explains.
Opening their second restaurant in May 2010 in Kinston, NC, the Lucas’ took over the Hams location where Seth once worked. The pre-existing building was a no brainer for the duo and was also conveniently the city in which their parents reside. In 2011 the Lucas’ opened their third location as the first East Coast Wings express unit. Located in Greenville, NC, the quick service model was a small venue close to the college campus and offered a delivery service. Their fourth unit opened 2013 in Goldsboro, NC, a military town that provided a great customer base for the business, and most recently, the brothers opened their fifth location in the small town of Washington, NC. Throughout the five locations the Lucas’ manage 175 employees, and the one-hour trip between their homes and each restaurant allows for the owners to be actively involved in each location. “Before opening we knew that as long as we were hands on in the business we’d be successful, but we weren’t expecting to be successful to the point of opening a new location every year,” Seth laughs.
Since their initial training in 2009, the process has changed immensely. Comparing the difference in training offered then and now as “night and day,” Seth explains how today the steps, procedures, and online courses for franchisees is much more detailed and intense. The new program is designed to run 35 days and includes a mock kitchen trial and cooking tests for every item on the menu. As a result franchisees are well equipped to manage their restaurants, yet also have access to ongoing training through unique software that allows for both owners and employees to stay educated with videos and tests.
Franchisees also benefit from the four dedicated East Coast Wings committees that cover marketing, menu, blueprint and advisory. “The biggest benefit of being an East Coast Wings franchisee is the transparency between franchisees and franchisors,” Seth says, explaining how the company’s willingness to work together when making decisions and head office’s devotion to saving their franchisees as much money as possible is second to none. “The franchisors are constantly cutting new deals with different vendors and seeing ahead of the market, and as franchisees we’re also included in making important decisions,” he explains, adding that the communication between franchisees and corporate is astounding. “It’s those little things that make me love being a part of the East Coast Wings’ team,” he says.
As a part of the company’s marketing initiative franchisees are actively involved with their local communities. Sponsoring various clubs and teams in their neighborhoods, “It’s important to give back,” Seth says, sharing how last year their efforts helped a local basketball team raise over five thousand dollars through selling donated coupon books for a low price with a high value. “This shows the community that we care for our teams and neighborhood, and also brings them into the restaurant at which point we can share our product and hopefully win them over.”
One of the most rewarding experiences the Lucas’ have faced since joining East Coast Wings occurred a year and a half ago when they settled a deal making them the only Area Development Representatives. As trainers for their territory, which include several big cities such as Wilmington and Virginia Beach, the dynamic duo will act as an extension of corporate and be responsible for the training and support of franchisees in the area. “We will be overlooking everything from training managers and staff, to helping franchisees in their first few weeks of opening, and there whenever we’re needed,” Seth says.
Along with the many highs the Lucas brothers have encountered with the company including various awards for their restaurant locations and products, Seth says one of the best things about being an East Coast Wings franchisee is that he’s home for dinner every night. “Because of our hard work and ability to successfully grow with the right employees, we are now able to put a lot of that hard work back into the business financially, spend more time with our families and be in control of our own business,” he says proudly.
Jumping at the opportunity to recommend East Coast Wings to anyone interested in the food industry Seth says this: “Find the thing that fits your lifestyle and learn about it. Make sure it will fit in your city and that the company fits with you personally. All businesses are different and values are different, so make sure it’s what you want.”
As the brothers continue to expand with their restaurants and raise their families they’re feeling positive about what the future has to offer and how they can grow with the company. “We’re constantly looking for new ideas,” Seth says, “It’s been a fun five years and we look forward to the next five.”
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