Wild Wing Café
Downtown. 36 N. Market St. 722-9464
Mt. Pleasant. 644 Coleman Blvd. 971-9464
N. Charleston. 7618 Rivers Ave. 818-9464
Not long after Hugo, Dianne Crowley drove from Hilton Head to Charleston to sit on a milk crate in the middle of an empty room on Market Street and make a decision.
"The water line on the wall was over my head," she says. "But I remember sitting there thinking that it just felt right. We knew that Charleston was the place to be."
The gut feeling about the available space on Market Street was dead-on. Over the years, Wild Wing Café has been so consistently popular with Charleston's late-night crowd that today, ladies and gentlemen who met over wings and beers are holding rehearsal dinners for their weddings in the same spot.
"It is a wonderful feeling when a couple tells you the story of how they met in your restaurant," she says. "It's great to see what a special place it's been for them."
A reputation for late night crowd-pleasers like live music, karaoke, and trivia night helped establish Wild Wing as the place to be, but wings remain the number one draw. "No matter what band or type of music may be hot at any given time, what we hang our hat on is the food."
Cecil and Dianne Crowley founded Wild Wing Café 17 years ago in Hilton Head, but it was opening the second location, 15 years ago in Charleston that marked the beginning of an expansion into a regional chain that today encompasses 25 restaurants in half a dozen states.
It should surprise no one that the Crowleys main inspiration for the Wild Wing Café theme of hot wings and cold beer was their annual Super Bowl party in Atlanta. Television, advertising, and Cecil's business, Executive Courier, were their bread and butter back then but each January they wowed their friends and family with a simple formula of great food and cold drink.
"Every year, we would set out a whole array of food," Dianne says. "And the wings would always disappear faster than anything else we had on the table. No matter how many batches of wings we put out, we always had to make more."
Growing up in Melbourne, Fla., Dianne learned the arts of cooking and entertaining -- on which the chain was later built -- from her mother, Suzanne Tasis. "When the menu says 'Mama's Homemade Chicken Soup,' it really is Mama's chicken soup," Dianne says. "She loved making ginger wings and blue cheese dressing, loved to entertain. To this day, many of the recipes on our menu are her recipes."
That knack for combining flavors and satisfying palates, coupled with the desire to open a "laid-back kind of place," led the couple to sell Executive Courier and use the funds to open a restaurant.
"The first year in Hilton Head was extremely popular but extremely unprofitable," Dianne recalls. She knew how to get people in the door and serve food they would return again and again for, but learning to juggle price margins and balance demand with supply took a bit longer. "We ran out of wings after the first night in Hilton Head," she says. "I called a supplier and asked if we could get a ton of wings. He said, 'Yeah, sure, we have a lot of wings. How many do you want?' I said, 'No, I literally mean that we need a ton of wings.'"
They hired a business consultant to troubleshoot the rough spots and shortly after were well on their way to launching the chain.
The Market Street location was so successful that seven years ago, they moved their corporate headquarters from Hilton Head to Charleston. Along the way, they also opened up shop in Mt. Pleasant and North Charleston, giving the Lowcountry a total of three Wild Wing Cafés to choose from.
The menu, ranging from 33 flavors of wings to soups, salads, and sandwiches, grew not only out of the Crowleys' early years of cooking and entertaining but also from the contributions of a large number of long-time staffers.
Dianne enjoys peppering clues into the names of different wing flavors to pay tribute to cooks past and present from Wild Wing kitchens. She will also point to the mural on the patio of the Mt. Pleasant location. The average person might only see a pretty picture, but insiders will discover scattered references to the personalities of the food and beverage staff who, over time, made the chain what it is today.
"The most amazing thing has been seeing the same faces, both staff and clientele, through the years," she says. "We have customers who have been coming here since they were in college, out partying late night. Now, we see them coming in to have dinner with their wife and children. It's a good feeling when people stay with you like that."