Buffalo Wild Wings franchise stays on growth track

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The Delaware-based franchise group of Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar plans to open its latest store in the North Pointe Plaza Shopping Center in Salisbury, Md.

With the addition of the Maryland restaurant-bar, Bobby Pancake, who along with Steve Wheat owns High 5 LLC, will have two restaurants in Maryland, with the remainder in Delaware. High 5 has franchise rights to Delaware and portions of Maryland.

Salisbury will follow the opening of another store last year on Route 1 Rehoboth Beach that dealt with the seasonal economy of coastal Delaware in its first winter of operation.

“We survived and the good news is that we are seeing more year-around residents,” Pancake said.

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High 5 is no stranger to variations in customer traffic It also operates a store on South Main Street (formerly Elkton Road) next to the University of Delaware Newark campus.

Pancake and Wheat continue to look for new locations as the Buffalo Wild Wings system grows through franchises and stores owned by the company based in Minneapolis. An obvious hole in the Buffalo Wild Wings map is north Wilmington.

Pancake says the right location has not yet popped up and the partners have been busy with expansion elsewhere in the region. One example, is the Buffalo Wild Wings in Bel Air, Md. That restaurant has tapped into the growth around the expanded Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Yet another possibility is the Christiana Mall area, which is now expanding with stores such as sporting goods giant Cabela’s and a new cinema complex. Pancake did note that High 5 is careful about placement of new restaurants, due to concerns about cannibalizing sales from nearby locations.

In addition, Buffalo Wild Wings has been opening company-owned stores in Pennsylvania, including a restaurant-bar in Concordville, near the Delaware line.

Buffalo Wild Wings also has international ambitions, with plans for stores in parts of the Middle East, China and Mexico The company already successfully expanded into Canada, with the total number of restaurants heading toward 1,000.

The owners both came out of the corporate side of Buffalo Wild Wings with decades of restaurant experience, even before they opened their first store in 2003, off U.S. Route 40 in Bear. The opening was a bit of a gamble since Bear was the first Buffalo Wild Wings location on the East Coast.

The company and High 5 continued to grow, even during the economic downturn. Aiding that growth were U.S. Small Business Administration-backed loans from PNC Bank that financed the first three locations.

In 2010, the Small Business Administration selected Pancake and Wheat, as a National Entrepreneurial Success Award winner. Award winners met with President Barack Obama.

Pancake, whose career started out at KFC and included a stint at a franchisee of Kenny Rogers Roasters, does not rule out High 5 acquiring other franchise rights, but has not yet found a compelling opportunity.

Buffalo Wild Wings, which has seen its earnings affected by the ups and downs of chicken prices, is also looking at other opportunities. In March, it became an investor in PizzaRev, a three-unit Los Angeles company that will tap into the market for artisan pizzas with a process that cooks a pie in a three minutes.

In the meantime, competition continues to intensify.

In Newark, the popular Greene Turtle sports bar opened near the Buffalo Wild Wings location and in Elkton, Md, Hurricane Grill and Wings opened a short drive from the Bear Buffalo Wild Wings location. Other chains are likely to follow, Pancake said.

“Competition makes us better,” Pancake says, adding that it focuses High 5 on providing a better experience for guests. That includes maintaining a focus on families who have a variety of options.

Pancake noted that children often who have a big say when a family decides to go out for dinner.

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