Port restaurant gives son a chance to learn the ropes from his father
When the Wing It restaurant opens next month, Port Washington will have a new dining spot offering a different take on a favorite casual entree item.
What co-owner Josh Brown, a 2014 graduate of Port Washington High School, hopes to get out of it is a crash course in business management.
Brown is opening the restaurant with his father Adam in the building at 620 W. Grand Ave. that formerly housed Sweetheart Cakes, the Donut Depot and the Red Barn fast food restaurant.
“It is a 50/50 partnership,” the younger Brown said. The collaboration will be known as JAB Ventures, reflecting the initials of the owners.
“When I graduated from high school, I knew I was interested in business and thought about my options,” Brown said.
“Some things you need to go to college for, but I decided I could learn more from working with my father than from any business professor.”
That meant taking a job as a fabricator at Sign Effectz, the North Shore sign company his father Adam owns near Bayshore.
Although he picked up some valuable experience on the job, Brown said his real ambition was to have his own business.
He and his father would often talk about the possibilities as they commuted between Port Washington and work.
“One day we drove past the old Mama Mia’s restaurant on Highway 33 and I thought it was a neat building. My dad said there is a reason they are no longer in business — it isn’t really near anything,” Brown
He was talking with some buddies on his cell phone about going to Buffalo Wild Wings for their Thursday night wings special when the Browns drove past the former Sweetheart Cakes building.
That’s when inspiration hit.
“I said to my dad, ‘Why not open a wings restaurant here?’” Brown said.
They checked into leasing the building and began earnest research into wing preparation, sauces and even restaurant decor.
“We did our due diligence. We sampled a lot of different ways to make wings, because we wanted something beyond what you can get at a bar,” Brown said.
“We did taste tests of four different methods of preparing wings and found the par-baked wings that were then chilled before being deep fried for 45 seconds tasted the best. They are amazing, so much better
Brown said he is in the process of finalizing the 10 sauces that will be served with wings.
In a quest to offer something different, the restaurant will also serve sidewinder fries, pork wings — actually four-ounce strips of pork shank — and turkey wings.
“Our supplier said the turkey wings are real popular on the West Coast, but no one from Wisconsin has ever ordered them,” Brown said.
A selection of wraps, salads and mac and cheese wedges will also be served “for the people who get dragged along to the wing place but don’t really like wings,” he said.
In the process of getting ready to open the restaurant, Brown said he has learned about things like liquor licensing, building permits and state inspections.
He said all the paperwork is in place and the restaurant will be ready to open next month.
“Our target date is May 22. We are going to be open by then, no matter what,” Brown said.
Meeting that timetable means Brown and his father have been spending all of their evenings and weekends getting the building ready.
“We are going for kind of a rustic, soft man-cave look. Very comfortable,” he said.
Fittingly, the restaurant will have several large-screen TVs mounted on the walls. A service counter is also being fabricated.
The restaurant will have seating for 48, with room for about 20 more diners on a patio fronting Grand Avenue.
The owners said they expect business to be split evenly between carry-out and dine-in orders.
When looking for a name for the restaurant, Brown put the question out on Facebook. Wing It was the runaway winner.
He also relied on social media to pick a logo design.
The sign, of course, is being created at his father’s company.
Adam Brown said he has been impressed with how focused his son has been in tending to the details of the new business.
“Meeting the May 22 deadline is proving to be a challenge, but I am confident we will get it done,” he said.
“Once we got past the time-consuming parts, like getting approvals from the city and permits from the state, everything started to fall into place.”
The interior of the building has been gutted, largely through the work of local contractors.
“My roots are deep in the community, and the relationships I have built over the years are important to me. I believe in keeping business local whenever possible,” Adam Brown said.
That is just one of the business lessons he hopes to teach his son through the process.
Another is the importance of location.
“Just about every car going to Port Washington drives past this site. You can’t beat that for visibility,” Adam Brown said.
He said he and his son will continue to work at the sign company once the restaurant opens, with oversight of the daily operation delegated to a manager.
This summer, the manager will be Josh’s sister, Hayley, who is a Port High student.
Adam Brown said the way he and his son approached the start-up venture has been a valuable learning experience.
“We did our research, and I am confident we will succeed,” he said.
“But if by some chance it fails, I feel it will be worth the expense based on what Josh is learning. I am a big supporter of higher education, but this whole process has proven to be a real education for him.”
Image information: ADAM AND JOSH BROWN held a banner outside the location of a wings restaurant the father and son intend to open in Port Washington. Photo by Sam Arendt