Earlier this year, the annual “chicken wing prices are on the rise as the Super Bowl approaches” stories included worries that supplies were likely to remain stretched after the big game and shortages might persist into the spring as wings enjoyed unprecedented popularity and the prices of chicken as well as beef and pork were on the rise after last summer’s drought.
It takes less time to refresh flocks than herds, though, and this spring the wing tales have switched to stories pondering the importance of size — specifically, why are wings getting bigger? Years of breeding bigger chickens are a boon to sellers of breast meat by the pound, but the trend can prove problematic for eateries that sell wings by the piece, Time reported last month.
What’s a wing chain to do? Diversify. Restaurants are serving up a wider mix of chicken dishes than ever before, and a recent Technomic report revealed that consumers are looking for more and varied poultry options. That’s good news for Ker’s WingHouse Bar & Grill. The 21-unit Florida chain that may have made its name serving beers and big orders of its namesake cut, but these days the newest menu features dishes including boneless white-meat “wings” and salads made with mesquite-flavored grilled chicken and blackened chicken.
Founder Crawford Ker played a year of football in high school before heading off to the University of Florida and later the NFL, where he played for the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos. He’s the first one to call his career path “unorthodox,” a trend that carried on after he left the football field and decided to open a restaurant. “Mine’s not the normal story. I’ve just always been the type of guy that, once I see something I can do, I jump in and apply myself,” said Ker, who started the first WingHouse in 1994 with his savings and a few small investors. Today, all 21 restaurants are company-owned, three more are planned for this year, and Ker said he’s open to franchising if the right opportunities come along.
Last week, Ker shared more of his story and his thoughts on chicken pricing and its effects on the menu.
On why he went into restaurants
There’s not a lot of career opportunities after you leave the NFL. You’re basically on your own. You can get a job and work for somebody or you can start your own business. I chose my own business. It was a whirlwind; it was tough. If you put in the work, you can make it, but it’s tough.
Business is like sports; if you don’t work at it, you won’t succeed. There are a lot of athletes who are at the front of the line — they’re used to that — but then it’s over and now you’re at the back of the line. It’s an adjustment. You read about all these guys like A-Rod who make millions, but really it’s very few.
My dad was in the business. He worked in various restaurants all his life. I thought it would be good to own one, and I had to learn on the run. My dad helped me the best he could. He knew the back-of-the-house kitchen stuff, ‘cause that’s what he did. He was a teacher, a mentor who believed you could do what you wanted to do.
We’ve been in the chicken business since 1994. Now, a lot of people are doing different things with chicken breasts, because wings are more expensive, but it’s all cycles. It’s chicken wings, then burgers then steak, then chicken and chicken wings again. Inflation is coming, it’s going to be the new normal, but it probably won’t spike as much as it has the past year. But when you have a drought, like Texas did, you don’t know. But it’s like fuel — prices go up and down. Do I ever see it going down to 50 cents a gallon? No. I think around $3 to $4 will be the new normal.
With chicken, when prices go up, you have to be a bit more creative in how you give it to the customers, and there’s a chance that if suppliers are going up, up, up and you raise prices, customers will say this is too much, so you have to be creative.