6 Questions with Wing It On! CEO Matt Ensero

    How a budget of only $40,000 turned into a growing brand.

    Wing It On! CEO Matt Ensero.
    Wing It On!
    Ensero started his restaurant journey as a teenager at Subway.

    I had no idea that one day my life would revolve around chicken wings. It all started back in my teenage years in Waterbury, Connecticut, when my friends and I would get together to watch football on Sundays, which of course meant wings were going to be consumed. The only problem? There was no place to get good takeout wings near us. Someone would have to drive over 30 minutes to the closest good wing spot, usually a sports bar that didn’t specialize in to-go orders, meaning we’d be eating cold and soggy wings by the time we got back. Eventually I started making my own wings and wing sauces, even developing a recipe for the perfect blue cheese to dip them in. One day, a friend said to me “Ya know, the wings you make for us are better than the ones we drive to go pick up, why don’t you just open a wing spot near here?”—and thus, Wing It On! was born.

     A year later, we launched our first Wing It On! restaurant in Waterbury on a budget of only $40,000, a lot of which came from saving up on my end and some wonderful friends and family members who invested in my startup and chipped in to help build the first location.

    Very quickly our little 760 square foot restaurant had reached its productive capacity and customers began asking if more locations were on the horizon. I started thinking that Wing It On! was a concept that could scale. Eventually we standardized and documented the system and began recruiting operators who believed in our brand mission just as much as we did. Two years later our second location opened. Recently things have started to take off—we’re now at 10 locations including one food truck and have over 20 stores currently in development. The next few years will see us growing across the country to bring our famous “wings n wiches” to legions of new fans.

    I have a lot of people to thank for the success and growth of the brand starting with the friends and family who believed in my original idea and helped me build that first store. Justin Egan, our CMO and my co-founder, was also instrumental in the launch of Wing It On!, helping me to create the branding and laying the foundation for our marketing efforts very early on. 

    What was your first job? 

    I was a “sandwich artist” at Subway when I was 16. 

    What’s your favorite menu item at WIO? 

    Classic wings cooked extra crispy and tossed in our Honey Blues sauce, with a side of our Loaded Street Corn.

    What’s your favorite cuisine aside from wings? 

    Growing up in Connecticut, it has to be New Haven Style pizza.

    Who inspires you as a leader? 

    Ray Dalio. He inspires me through his use of the “radical transparency” methodology. He developed a system that encourages all members of the team to speak freely and give honest feedback regardless of their rank or tenure in the company. The end result is a meritocracy where the best ideas win out and bad ideas are constantly tested and thrown out in favor of better ones. What he found was that by focusing on finding the best solution as quickly as possible, rather than the ego-driven solution, companies can grow and scale exponentially faster than their competition.

    What’s the best piece of advice that other restaurant executives should hear?

    Rather than focusing energy on improving your weaknesses, surround yourself with talented people whose greatest strengths are your weaknesses.

    What are some of your interests outside of work?

    Mountain biking, hiking, playing drums, listening to podcasts, and cooking.