Throughout an accelerating age of convenience, the wing category quickly ascended because of its simplicity and portability. In 2020, many restaurants leveraged extra kitchen space to start wing-based virtual brands to help with revenue losses.
Capriotti’s took the trend a step further by purchasing an entire chain, which means the venture is far more than a temporary side hustle, Bloom says.
“Our focus is to invest very heavily and make sure we're the best at it,” Bloom says. “And our belief is, there's always gonna be a number one, number two, and number three. If we're the very best at it and we have a great product, we're going to win. That’s how we run Capriotti’s. That's how we're going to approach Wing Zone. We don't think of it as a short-term fix. … It’s not an easy fix. It's going to be super competitive. It's going to take a lot of investment and a lot of innovation. We're going to have to be the best, so it's going to be a lot of hard work, and we're in it for the long haul.”
Bloom says off-premises will continue to be one of the main investments for both brands. This year, Capriotti’s opened its first corporate ghost kitchens in Los Angeles and Pasadena; ghost kitchen franchises are also now open and under development in Columbus, Ohio, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Portland, Austin, and Miami. Additionally, the chain rolled out virtual brands serving reimagined classic subs across Grubhub, Postmates, and DoorDash.
Wing Zone operates ghost kitchens overseas, and recently launched its own virtual brand, Tender Zone. Bloom says Capriotti’s will leverage national agreements with cloud kitchen providers Kitchen United and REEF Technologies to boost Wing Zone even further. And in turn, Wing Zone has relationships with companies like Aramark and AAFES (Army & Air Force Exchange Services) that will open doors for Capriotti’s.
“We do 70 to 80 percent of our revenue off-premise anyhow,” Bloom says. “So where a ghost kitchen makes the best sense, we’re opening ghost kitchens first. Just because we get in, we get open, and like literally in a couple of months, we’re open with three to four opening dates because they’re the operator. They put up capital. And that gives us a quick, early entry into the market, and then we start doing retail locations afterwards. I don't see us ever being just a ghost kitchen, just a virtual brand—for us it’s that overall market strategy.”
Capriotti’s will also invest by building corporate stores along with franchisees; more than 10 percent of the sandwich chain’s system is company-operated. One of its first measures will be to open about a half-dozen corporate Wing Zone stores around Las Vegas. Bloom says this will make Capriotti’s a better operator and help it understand the business.
“We have huge interest just here in Vegas. Some of the casino foodservice operators, they’re dying to do this,” Bloom says. “The back of the house for Wing Zone is actually much simpler than the back of the house for Capriotti’s. So from an operation standpoint it’s very attractive. And the ability to automate that even further is very attractive. We've been approached, and we're continuing to be approached.”
Capriotti’s and Wing Zone share several characteristics in how they operate, but Bloom notes the acquisition will also provide an opportunity to learn from each other. For example, Wing Zone has internal delivery, an area in which Capriotti’s will make numerous technologic and training investments to onboard “the very best people in the delivery world to work with us.”