Wing Snob owes its beginning to a shutdown pizzeria in the Detroit suburb of Livonia, Michigan.
Brian Shunia found the space through his father-in-law, who thought Shunia might be interested in returning to foodservice after running a chicken broaster for six years. His initial reaction was to decline the offer, but once he took a look at the space, he saw the perfect setup for an emerging fast casual.
Shunia, joined by co-founder Jack Mashini, took over the building in September and leveraged a team of designers, contractors, and signage companies to create the brand. In December 2017, Wing Snob “came out with a bang,” Shunia says.
The concept offers the typical traditional and boneless wings, but differentiates itself with a selection of 15 sauces, such as Chicken & Waffles, Snobby Q, Buffalo Parmesan, and Awesome Sauce. Wing Snob also plays in the plant-based space with chicken tenders from Beyond Meat and cauliflower wings.
“While doing that, we started getting inquiries abroad,” Shunia says. “It was something magical in the air and people really took a liking to the brand and the food. It’s been history since.”
Those inquiries transformed into development agreements, including the original corporate store in Livonia, which became franchised in October 2018. In the years since then, Wing Snob has opened 10 more units across Michigan, two in Columbus, Ohio, seven in Texas, and two internationally in Alberta, Canada.
The primary reason Shunia and Mashini sold their corporate store is so the duo could provide an extra layer of support to the budding franchise business. Shunia says they’re “in the trenches pretty much every day,” whether that’s training, cooking, managing, or even serving as a cashier.
The goal is to double in size this year and reach 100 units open by 2025. Wing Snob is moving toward that benchmark through a balance of existing and new markets, with a host of units in development in Texas, Illinois, Florida, and Michigan.
“There’s a strategy of rolling out a new brand, and that strategy is go in there and make some noise and let everyone take notice and let them say, ‘Who the hell are these guys coming into this new market, trying to compete with these seasoned brands that have been in those markets for a number of years?’” Mashini says. “We notice that that strategy works the best.”
Mashini, who previously owned and operated 23 Cricket Wireless units, explains that Wing Snob speaks to “everyone under the sun” when it comes to potential franchisees, from corporate America to current multi-brand operators.
For instance, earlier in the year, Shunia announced on social media that a former Ford Motor Co. employee leaped into entrepreneurship and will open the 11th unit in the Dallas-Forth Worth market.
In Michigan, the fast casual inked a deal with area developers Chintan Patel and Prakash Chaudhari, experienced franchisees who own 50 restaurant locations in the Midwest. The duo signed on for 25 Wing Snob stores in West Michigan over the next four years.
Patel and Chaudhari have already executed five leases just a few months after entering the franchise.
“It’s sort of a case-by-case basis when we’re looking at making deals with potential area developers—what can their support, support?” Mashini says. “Are they able to open 25 locations in a timely fashion where you know that it’s not just sitting stagnant and the brand goes stale? It’s all about staying relevant in every market that we’re launching in, and we want to make sure the partners we bring out are able to meet those goals.”
“We’re the new cool guys in town, and I think the customers that we’re attracting and the franchises around the country, it’s something cool new and exciting,” says Jack Mashini, co-founder of Wing Snob.
Although Wing Snob received many inquiries in 2021, Shunia says the brand slowed expansion efforts last year and took time to rebuild infrastructure. That includes constructing a new franchise portal, digitizing brand manuals, and standing up sophisticated training system Wing Snob University.
Shunia expects the chain’s foot to hit the accelerator this summer when it starts actively promoting its franchise offer. Previously, the company’s leads came without marketing support.
As for customers, a new website launched in January, marking the brand’s third refresh. In the past three years, Wing Snob has examined visited pages and explored what type of advertising makes the most sense. The biggest learning is that customers are there to order food and move on, Mashini says.
Ninety percent of Wing Snob’s business is carryout and delivery and 60 percent comes from the online ordering platform. Digital sales will be amplified even further this summer with the rollout of a new mobile app.
“So we’re revamping our website constantly, adding additional information that we see from analytics that are relevant to our customer base,” Mashini says. “At the end of the day, they want to see something user-friendly and easy on the eyes and I think we accomplished it so far with this latest roll out. But it’s never really done. It’s forever evolving.”
Because the chain is mostly off-premises, locations average roughly 1,500 square feet and are usually inline beside national brands that attract foot traffic. The first restaurant in Houston has a pickup window and another drive-thru model will be tested in Mission, Texas, which is close to the Mexican border.
Mashini says it’s a matter of sampling different techniques and ensuring Wing Snob can deliver the same fresh, never frozen product.
“It’s definitely a different animal when you go into the drive-thru model,” Mashini says. “It’s something that I think we’re utilizing our strongest teams to make sure it works successfully. I think at the very least we’re definitely looking at the pick-up window model to help with third-party delivery pickups. To have a customer be able to pull in, grab your food and drive out, makes their life easier, makes our staff’s lives easier. It’s definitely the future for sure.”
Wing Snob is part of a food category that accelerated during COVID because of its portability. A number of chains launched virtual restaurants centered around wings, including Chili’s with It’s Just Wings and Applebee’s with Cosmic Wings. For Wing Snob specifically, delivery increased as much as 5x-6x.
Although the segment is saturating, Mashini doesn’t view the competition as a threat, and that comes from his confidence in what Wing Snob is building across the U.S.
“We’re the new cool guys in town, and I think the customers that we’re attracting and the franchises around the country, it’s something cool new and exciting,” he says. “Everyone wants to get on board with that. There’s a lot of players, but not a lot of major players in the chicken wing space. So we’re really trying to, become that major player and attract the masses.”