Zak Omar didn’t imagine he’d end up running Atomic Wings when he first inquired about franchising a store a decade ago. The multi-unit Dunkin’ franchisee just wanted to add a second concept to his portfolio. As fate would have it, the chicken wing restaurant’s founder was starting to think about retirement. He jumped on the chance to purchase the company a few years later. 

“I was ordering Atomic Wings as a customer way before I ever decided to buy the brand,” Omar says. “I loved their flavor profiles, everything from sweet to heat. I loved the freshness of the jumbo-sized wings that you could tell were never frozen.”

The New York native was drawn to the idea of owning a company founded in the city. He already knew a thing or two about the chicken business after working in his father’s food truck as a teenager. 

“It was actually the first mobile fried chicken food on Wall Street back in the 1980s,” Omar says. “My dad had me and my brother back there with him handing out sodas. When I close my eyes and reflect back on that time, I remember the interactions with the customers. I see the smiles that our fried chicken put on their faces. Something inside of me fell in love with that.”

Omar took over as the owner and CEO of Atomic Wings in 2016. At the time, there were two brick-and-mortar restaurants. It’s added around two dozen units since then, venturing beyond its home turf in the tri-state area and strengthening its footprint throughout the East Coast and Midwest. 

“That’s all been organic growth,” Omar says. “There are no venture capitalists that have helped us. There are no big money funds that have taken a bite out of our company. It’s mostly been people who have tried our food and believe in our concept.”

The growth engine is kicking into high gear this year. Atomic Wings is on track to nearly double the size of its system with 20 more locations by the end of 2024. Omar wants to reach 500 units within the next five years—an aggressive goal that he says is attainable thanks to a few key factors that set the brand apart from its peers. 

  • Founders: Adam Lippin
  • Headquarters: New York City
  • Year Started: 1999
  • Total Units: 27

First up are the wings themselves. There’s the traditional version you’d expect to find at a wing restaurant, plus a grilled version and a breaded version that’s similar to a crispy Korean-style wing. Second is all the work that’s been done over the past several years to make sure the brand is ready to scale into new markets—everything from a fresh logo and more consistent branding to a new website, enhanced recipe manuals, stronger vendor relationships, and an equipment package that’s faster, simpler, and less expensive. 

Next is prototype innovation. Atomic Wings opened its first drive-thru restaurant in Houston earlier this year. Omar views that as another important differentiator, since long cook times prevent most wing-centric restaurants from offering efficient drive-thru service. 

“We wanted to be first-to-market,” he says. ”We partnered with equipment companies to get us to a place where we can cook our wings in three or four minutes. We moved our fryers and breading stations around to make sure the flow is moving toward that window. We feel this is the way of the future, and whenever possible in any of the states that we’re looking at, we look for a drive-thru first now.” 

The layout changes and new equipment package shaved around 10-15 minutes off the time it takes to crank out wings. That opened up an additional channel that he expects will provide another 30 percent in sales and make the brand more attractive to potential operators. 

To that end, Atomic Wings is focused on reducing costs for franchisees with low royalties and flexible construction requirements. It’s a mindset that comes from corporate leaders who know what life is like on the other side of the relationship. Omar picked up the ins and outs of running a franchise while cutting his teeth at Dunkin’. VP of development Michael Domico and VP of operations Michael Harmon also bring firsthand experience as Firehouse Subs franchisees. 

“We’re one of the few franchises that are actually run by franchisees,” Omar says. “We know the effort it takes to run a restaurant, how much it costs, how people put their entire livelihoods into it, and we’re very cognizant of that.”

Domico and Harmon helped usher in a new franchising model for the company, he adds. It is partnering with area developers who have experience as franchisees with other franchises. They’re making commitments to purchase territories and build out the brand in their state. For their efforts, they’ll be sharing in franchise fees and royalties. 

Atomic Wings already is partnering with area representatives who will develop a total of about 275 locations across New York, Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, Nevada, Arizona, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, and New Jersey. It also is looking to sign multiple new deals in Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, and Florida.

“How you penetrate those markets where people aren’t as familiar with the brand and build that following—those are the sorts of things that keep me up at night,” Omar says. “We’re trying to ingrain ourselves in local communities and really do guerilla-type marketing because we don’t have the power to advertise on national TV during NFL and NBA game days.” 

Atomic Wings recently wrapped up a consumer survey in the tri-state area that showed it has “as much if not more” brand strength and notoriety in its home market versus national competitors, he adds. Now, it’s just a matter of bringing that to every state across the country. 

“There’s that old saying, ‘If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere,’” Omar says. “We’re doing a lot of things that set us apart, and I think we’re going to be a major player in this space here pretty soon.”

Emerging Concepts, Franchising, Growth, Story, Atomic Wings