Lee Kantor: Lee Kantor here. Another episode of Franchise Marketing Radio. And this is going to be a good one. Today, we have with us Zak Omar with Atomic Wings. Welcome, Zak.
Zak Omar: Thank you. Thanks for having me on.
Lee Kantor: Well, I'm excited to learn what you're up to. Tell us a little bit about Atomic Wings.
Zak Omar: Absolutely. So, Atomic Wings is a brand that was born and raised out of New York City. The brand was formed by my predecessor and founder, Adam Lippin, back in 1989. He actually worked out of Duff's Bar, which is credited for creating the Buffalo wing. When he came to New York City, he realized there was really no good place to eat wings. So, he created this awesome brand. And since then, we've taken off, and we've really become a cultural following here in New York City, and we're hoping to expand throughout America.
Lee Kantor: So, now, when he started, did he always dream of it being a franchise, or did he just want it to be kind of that one shop in New York?
Zak Omar: Well, when he started, he started franchising years later. So, when he opened, it was just kind of a one shop. He actually opened up a bar and he started serving wings out of a bar. And then, from there, he kind of took off and opened a couple locations.
Lee Kantor: Now, how did you get involved with the brand?
Zak Omar: So, in 2016, our paths crossed, I was a franchisee of Dunkin Donuts at the time. And Adam had reached out about me possibly taking over territory in Maryland. And we got to talking. And Adam was in the business for about 20 plus years. At the time, I was a little burnt out, and he had other things going on, and the opportunity came about where we talked, and figured this was the best path forward for the brand. And he realized that with my background and the expertise that we had, the best path forward for the brand, and we had sold the company back in 2016.
Lee Kantor: So, now what did you learn from your franchisee experience that helps Atomic Wings franchisees?
Zak Omar: So, one thing I learned, I went to school, did the whole IT background, did the whole Wall Street and come into franchising with Dunkin, and just in franchise world in general, I didn't realize how hands on it would be, and how you still have to operate your location, you still have to hire employees, and you're still in the business of customer service and employees. And at the end of the day, it's all on you. One thing that I did realize that's helped me as a franchise owner with my franchisees is I don't want to kill them with construction costs, building out locations. You don't need the high marble finishes or the high wood end finishes. So, that's something we're very conscious of with our franchisees. We understand that this is their hard-earned money, and we definitely are empathetic towards that. We want to make sure that they're getting the most out of what they put in, and that the return of investment happens a lot quicker than maybe some other franchises.
Lee Kantor: So, now, you've talked a little bit about your back story, but can you share a little bit more about how far back the food industry and restaurants are in your family?
Zak Omar: Yeah. So, my father came to America as a refugee in 1981, and he opened the first mobile fried chicken truck outside of One Chase Manhattan Plaza in about 1990. So, I was working at that truck when I was about 12 to 14 years old, and I worked until I was about 18 at the truck there in the summers, serving people fried chicken, office workers, all facets. You meet all different kinds of people from the cafeteria worker to the VP. And it was really interesting, and I fell in love with that customer service aspect of it, putting smiles on people's faces. I learned a lot from my father in terms of how he dealt with every customer and he treated everyone the same. And just, it was all about delivering good hot food, fresh food and making people's days a little bit better.
Lee Kantor: So, now, as a high school kid doing that work, you weren't like, "Why am I doing this? My friends are out hanging out doing what teenagers do. And I'm here in this truck slinging chicken"?
Zak Omar: It was hot. It was hot in there, but he paid me well. So, it was worth it. It was definitely worth it. I was compensated, and I wasn't working for free. But definitely, summers were long, and I got out about 3:00, so I was still able to enjoy the rest of the day, go and play basketball, and hanging out with my friends.
Lee Kantor: And it didn't sour you on getting involved in the restaurant industry. So, like you did-
Zak Omar: Not at all. No, no. Yeah.
Lee Kantor: And then, so, when you're telling potential franchisees because they might have to do some of that too, right?
Zak Omar: Yeah. And they have to love it, right? First of all, I always tell prospective franchisees, "Listen, you need to come into our location. Try the food. Because if you don't like the food, you can't get behind this brand. You need to love the food." And thankfully, everyone that I've met so far and that I've brought on as a prospect has loved the food, and they've got tremendous things to say about the food. So, that's the first part.
Zak Omar: Second part is you have to love customer service and being able to talk to all different types of customers and be in a store. So, right now, we're at a level where we're a growing brand, we're an emerging brand, and we want operators who are going to be hands-on. We don't want absentee owners. We want people that are going to be in their stores, and care about their stores. And that's really who we're looking for.
Lee Kantor: And then, so, you're not going after kind of the professional franchisee. You're looking at the person that wants to invest in the community and really kind of roll up their sleeves.
Zak Omar: Absolutely. And I'm a strong believer in that the foundation has to be strong. So, eventually, that model may change. But as of now, we're looking for franchises that are going to be hands on. We have a great story. There were two young gentlemen who used to do deliveries out of one of our franchise locations, and they're in college, and they're about to graduate. Now, they love the brand so much, and they're doing delivery. They're delivery guys. They love the brand so much that they convinced their father to back them and open up a location of their own. So, right now, they're in the site selection process of opening up a location. And I love stories like that. Just give them back to folks that start as delivery guys, and hopefully they go on to open a hundred locations and become really successful. And that's what we're all about.
Lee Kantor: Now, how does Atomic Wings differentiate themselves from the other kind of wing players out there?
Zak Omar: Sure. So, the biggest differentiator, in my opinion, is our product is fresh and never frozen. Until today, we're still hand cutting our boneless wings and hand breading them. We take pride in the fact that our food is fresh. And most of our sauces are gluten-free. We've delivered this tremendous taste for over 30 years. So, some of these wing places come and go. We've been around for a very long time. And I believe the freshness and the quality of our product speaks to that longevity. In addition to that we have niche segments that love gluten-free. People really do appreciate the fact. They don't mind waiting 10 minutes or 12 minutes for a fresh product as opposed to something that's under heat lamps or something that's been in cabinet warmers.
Lee Kantor: So, everything's fresh to order?
Zak Omar: Everything is fresh to order. So, we don't have any heat lamps in our locations. We don't have any warmers in our locations.
Lee Kantor: And then, for the folks that are doing this, are they typically targeting college towns? Like what's the profile of a good location for you guys?
Zak Omar: So, it's all over the place, I mean, we have our college kids, but our segment is mostly, I would say, 16 to about 45 years old, man and woman. Everyone loves a good wing. They're in sports. But it's interesting to note that we're busy Sunday through Saturday.
Lee Kantor: Not just game day.
Zak Omar: Just game day, exactly. People love wings. I was actually speaking to the VP of some of these third-party apps, Uber Eat and GrubHub, and they said that wings are the second most searched term on these websites after pizza. So, that just goes to show you the strength of the wing market. And you can probably see that with guys like Pizza Hut adding wings to their menus, Domino's adding wings to their menus. You have 7-Eleven who added wings. And everyone just, they're trying to just add wings just for the sake of saying to have wings on their menu.
Lee Kantor: So, now, the menu at Atomic Wings isn't just wings, though. You have chicken sandwiches, you have burgers.
Zak Omar: Yeah, we have our crispy chicken sandwich. We have our tenders, which are great, hand breaded and freshly made on a daily basis. We just relaunched our tenders in original and spicy. And we have 14 unique flavors to dip them in.
Lee Kantor: And so, is that kind of very region to region what's on the menu?
Zak Omar: We have some regional items that we have limited time offers on, but with our main staple, I would say 85% of our business comes from our wings, our boneless wings, and our tenders.
Lee Kantor: And then, the sources, are they the same in every location?
Zak Omar: They are the same in every location.
Lee Kantor: And so, that doesn't change no matter the region. You might have specialties-
Zak Omar: We have a regional. Yes, if we open in a different region of America, we might open up with the regional special or a limited time offer only and create a sauce just for that region.
Lee Kantor: And then, when a person opens, typically, are they opening one just kind of checking out or are they buying multiple units?
Zak Omar: So, we're doing multiple units outside of the New York area. We're doing a three-store minimum outside of New York.
Lee Kantor: And then, when the customer comes in, is this just for them or is there kind of a catering or a party element to it as well?
Zak Omar: So, they would have to order in advance, but there is catering. A lot of that in New York City. We have a lot of office workers, Thursday and Friday, they place the orders ahead of time. You're getting the hundred wing orders, 200 wings, and it's just something that the whole office enjoys.
Lee Kantor: And because of New York and the office density, is that a unique thing or it's like the typical Atomic Wings taps into the offices as well?
Zak Omar: I believe Atomic Wings taps into offices anywhere that we go into, but our traditional, I guess, guest is young professionals that are at home, and they want something really good to eat.
Lee Kantor: And are they doing it like pickup or they're getting those third-party deliveries? How does that work?
Zak Omar: So, it's mostly pickup and delivery. That's where our space is, quick service. And that's where we keep our footprint small, so that we're doing a quick service type. I guess that's who our segment is. It's really delivery and pickup.
Lee Kantor: Now, I've talked to a lot of franchise folks where the pandemic really didn't hurt their business so much. It kind of helped them in some places that their sales didn't go down because they were an essential service, and they were able to pivot to the curbside, and to be able to kind of facilitate the ordering and the pickup. Is that how it worked for you guys?
Zak Omar: Yeah, absolutely. So, kind of on location. We had some locations that were up over 100 percent in sales during COVID last year. Then, we have a location that's on Wall Street where there's nobody on Wall Street during COVID, so they were a little less fortunate. But a lot of our locations, for the most part, had a lot higher sales in 2020 than they had previously.
Lee Kantor: Now, are you looking to grow in certain regions of the country or is it just kind of a full-court press nationwide at this point?
Zak Omar: So, right now, it's a full-court press nationwide. We actually just signed a three-store agreement out in Texas in the Arlington area. But we have a lot of people that are looking to come on board, and you should see tremendous growth from our brand in the near future here.
Lee Kantor: And when you go into a new market, is there a strategy that you like your franchisees to kind of do like in terms of immersing themselves in the community, getting to know-
Zak Omar: Absolutely, absolutely. So, we don't collect advertising fees from our franchisees, and that's done intentionally because we want them to be ingrained in their local communities, and we want them to be part of the local community, and spend that advertising money that they would have given us locally and helping those folks out. So, that's something that we always like to do with our franchisees. And when we go into a new market, we want to be cognizant of the fact that there's different taste buds all over the nation. So, if there's something that we can do locally, and pivot, and kind of create a local flavor for them, that's something that we like to do.
Lee Kantor: Now, fairly recently, you had a health scare. Can you talk about how that impacted you personally and how that kind of affects how you manage Atomic Wings?
Zak Omar: Absolutely, yeah. In 2013. I was initially diagnosed with leukemia. That was previous to me getting onboard Atomic Wings. I was given a clean bill of health in about 2015, and then I had a relapse in 2018. I had to have a bone marrow transplant in 2018. And thank God ever since then, I've been given a clean bill of health. But something that made me realize it was 24 hours a day, it was Atomic Wings, and I was taken on what I was doing. I was pretty much wearing 20 different hats - marketing, advertising, product development, R&D, going into the stores, training. And what it made me realize is that I needed a team around me, a strong team that I could trust. And since then, we've brought on quite a number of folks that have helped out with the franchise, and helped us grow and have brought on great ideas.
Lee Kantor: Now, can you share a little bit about how you went about creating that team and building that team, because that's important for everybody out there that has an emerging brand. If you don't have the right folks, it's going to be difficult to scale.
Zak Omar: Yeah, absolutely. So, when looking for team members, they have to share your vision. You have to share your vision with them, "This is where I want to go." I'm open to butting heads, and I'm open to different ideas, but at the end of the day, this is the path and this is where we want to be. So, bringing up folks that are going to provide something that you can't necessarily provide or that's going to provide a different point of view that maybe you haven't thought of, and that have check marks based on the industry that you're in. So, they have to have some sort of experience in the industry that you're looking for or that you're in necessarily. That experience goes a long way, and it just opens your eyes to different facets of the industry.
Lee Kantor: Now, in your career, since you started out kind of with a super large brand that everybody knows, and then you're creating this brand, and you're kind of developing the brand through your own efforts, how do you see this playing out? How does the story end for you?
Zak Omar: Well, I believe I've always been a very competitive person, and one of my goals and I shared that the vision has to be the same if we want to be a name that's known throughout the industry, all over the nation and internationally. So, hopefully, this story never ends for me. We're hoping that we take this thing and grow throughout the world. And that's our hope for the brand.
Lee Kantor: And how many units do you have right now?
Zak Omar: We have 11 brick-and-mortar locations and another nine under construction this year. So, we'll have 20 by the end of this year. And we're in talks with a lot of folks to double and triple that number.
Lee Kantor: And then, right now, it's only in the US?
Zak Omar: Right now, we are only in the US.
Lee Kantor: And then, any region, you're open to any region,
Zak Omar: We are open to any region, yes.
Lee Kantor: And then, the ideal franchisee, are they kind of second act folks? Like what's your ideal franchisee look like?
Zak Omar: So, our ideal franchisee is someone, obviously, with the financial -- we have certain financial, I guess, requirements that they would need to be successful, and to make sure that they're healthy enough to run and operate a location. But our ideal franchisee is someone that has some sort of restaurant experience that's worked in a restaurant, knows food costs, labor costs, and is financially savvy in that regard. We help a lot. We're very hands on with our franchisees. We train, we have our operations manager that goes around and talks to our franchisees on a weekly basis, but they have to have some sort of knowledge of the industry.
Lee Kantor: And that knowledge of the industry, it could be food truck knowledge as well, right?
Zak Omar: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Lee Kantor: And so, they don't necessarily have to own their own restaurant. They could have worked in the industry.
Zak Omar: No, no, no. Yeah. Just as long as they're familiar with what it takes.
Lee Kantor: Right, exactly. Maybe manage their own restaurant is-
Zak Omar: Yeah.
Lee Kantor: Okay. And if somebody wants to learn more, have more substantive conversation with you or somebody on the team, what's the website to go to?
Zak Omar: They could go to wwww.atomicwings.com or they could email us at email@example.com.
Lee Kantor: Good stuff. Well, congratulations on all the success, Zak.
Zak Omar: I appreciate it. Thank you.
Lee Kantor: This is Lee Kantor. We will see you all next time on Franchise Marketing Radio.