Wingstop CEO discusses Rick Ross, boneless vs. bone-in wings

By FeaturesAssociated Press

Most people come to Wingstop to eat sauce-tossed chicken wings. But some also stop by to ask for rapper Rick Ross.

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The music star owns several Wingstop locations, promotes the chain on his social media and raps about its lemon pepper wings in his songs; some think he owns the entire company, says Wingstop CEO Charlie Morrison.

While that's not true, Morrison says the association keeps the brand cool. In an interview with The Associated Press, Morrison talked about plans to expand the chain, why it sells more bone-in wings than boneless and which of Wingstop's 11 sauces is his favorite. The questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.

Q: What does Rick Ross do for the brand?

A: He has a strong connection with our core consumer who is young, millennial, and follows Rick Ross and artists like him. He's always very engaging and very supportive of the brand. He might be at a boxing match or one of his concerts or somewhere else and he almost always has a Wingstop cup in his hand. It keeps us relevant.

Q: Which chains do you consider competitors?

A: We really don't think we have a true competitor. Seventy-five percent of our business is takeout. And if you look out in the landscape of competing offerings, you have lots of chicken chains; you have bar-centric concepts; some of the pizza guys sell wings — but there's no one like us.

Q: What do people order more of, boneless or bone-in wings?

A: Bone-in is about 65 percent of wing sales; boneless is 35 percent.

Q: Why do people prefer bone-in?

A: Well, that is the true chicken wing. Better flavor, typically, with the bone in. If you're a boneless user, you like that because it's a little easier to eat. It's a little more fork-and-knife, not the messiness of the whole chicken wing.

Q: Why does Wingstop charge more for bone-in than boneless?

A: We do distinguish between bone-in and boneless, which are breast. It's a little less expensive for us and so we try to provide a value to our consumers for the boneless.

Q: What about delivery?

A: We started a test last year in Las Vegas with DoorDash and have expanded that into Chicago and Austin, Texas. We'll work through some of the kinks to ensure that we're prepared to start a national launch, probably later this year.

Q: There are more than 1,100 Wingstop locations. How many do you expect to grow by?

A: We believe the U.S. has the potential for 2,500 restaurants. We can easily position this brand to be a top 10 global restaurant brand for the future. And what that means is somewhere around 6,000 restaurants in the U.S. and internationally. We don't have a timeframe, but our typical year is about 140 to 150 openings. Chicken is the most popular protein around the world, especially bone-in chicken. It's a very easy product to take globally.

Q: Where will you add U.S. stores?

A: The brand was really well established in Texas and California, but we see this opportunity for the brand to continue to grow aggressively in the eastern half of the U.S. We're expanding in New York, New Jersey, down into Philadelphia and up to Boston.

Q: Which sauce do you order?

A: I tend to focus on lemon pepper as my favorite. It's our top-selling flavor.

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Contact Joseph Pisani at http://twitter.com/josephpisani