Bob Bafundo, Chief Operations Officer at Wings and Rings.
He is an industry veteran with a broad base of experience in numerous key disciplines, formerly serving as President of Rave Restaurant Group, a Dallas-based publicly held company specializing in the pizza segment, and franchisor of legacy brand Pizza Inn and fast-casual Pie Five. He joined Rave in 2016 as President of the Pizza Inn division, where he has led efforts that created 3 years of consistent same-store sales growth. Prior to that, he served as President of Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill, designated as a “Breakout Brand” by Nation’s Restaurant News in both 2013 and 2014. Starting in 2009, he built the franchise program for the brand.
“Raised” in operations, Bob quickly moved through the ranks of single and multi-unit operations with Midwest regional sandwich chain Rax Restaurants. His passion for the business and work ethic created new opportunities in Purchasing/Distribution, as well as Franchise Development and Support Services within the Rax organization. He left Rax as Vice President of Company Operations. Joining KFC in 1993, he spent the next 11 years in company operations, driving sales and profits for between 125 and 180 restaurants in the Southeast, and leading the field testing of many multi-branded concepts. His results at KFC were driven by his strong team-building skills.
In 2004, Bob and a partner ventured out as franchisees of Dallas based Tin Star Southwest Grill, and became master franchise developers for the Sports Clips concept, both in Atlanta. He later moved to regional player Back Yard Burgers as Sr. Vice President of Operations, with responsibility for both company stores as well as franchise support. He has a unique blend of experience ranging from start-ups to national brands, that creates a strong foundation for general management opportunities. He has proven abilities in recruiting and building strong teams, growing sales, partnering with franchisees, and creating systems and processes to deal with new and challenging situations. His approach is always driven by high energy, outstanding work ethic, excellent communication skills, and integrity.
Connect with Bob on LinkedIn.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- Wings and Rings Partners with Miso Robotics to Test Solutions to Alleviate Labor Shortage
- Wings and Rings recent partnership with Miso Robotics to begin a piloted test of Flippy 2 in the Crestview Hills, Kentucky location
- The impact on technology in the kitchen and how human counterparts can focus more on customer-facing roles
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:05] Coming to you live from the Business RadioX studio. It’s Franchise Marketing Radio brought to you by IDs, an award winning digital marketing agency that delivers integrated marketing solutions for franchisors, franchisees and franchise development teams. Learn why over 75 brands depend on ID’s team of dedicated marketers and client service professionals to deliver a strong ROI on their marketing investment. Go to IDS Franchise Marketing for a complimentary digital audit and consultation.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:42] Lee Kantor are here another episode of Franchise Marketing Radio and this is going to be a fun one. Today on the show we have Bob Bufano with wings and rings. Welcome, Bob.
Bob Bafundo: [00:00:54] Hey, thank you, Lee. I appreciate you having me. Good afternoon.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:57] I am so excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us a little bit about wings and rings. How are you serving folks?
Bob Bafundo: [00:01:02] Wings and Rings is a concept that’s been in place since 1984. Current ownership acquired the chain in 2005 and really took it from a very localized wing joint in in the Cincinnati market to more of a regional emerging chain throughout the country. We have 61 restaurants domestically in another 23 or so internationally. And Wings and Rings really tries to differentiate itself by being the place where people can go to connect over sports. It’s getting together with friends and family and watching a game and enjoying some great food. We really try to deliver crave worthy wings and rings to our guests and make sure they they view us as the place to go for those items. And we try to do it with in a little nicer environment and decor and do it with some great friendly service that makes people feel like they’re in a home.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:09] Now, how are you helping your franchisees kind of cope with this labor challenge that’s happening around the country? Is there any kind of technology that you’re kind of leaning into to help with this?
Bob Bafundo: [00:02:23] Well, first of all, we we try to work with our franchisees on an ongoing basis and really understand which stores and which geographic areas are struggling the most from a staffing standpoint. Safe to say in this environment, just about everybody is struggling in that area. But we try to work with them and understand where the gaps are, try to help them with recruiting and retention as a way to improve their individual situation. And then we feel a responsibility to look long term and look beyond that. So we look for ways to simplify the menu, ways to simplify recipes in the back of the house, to make it easier to learn our systems, to be successful, delivering our systems on a consistent basis. And then we also look for ways we can just eliminate labor and tasks, especially the most difficult ones out of the back of the house in our restaurants. And so we’ve even gone as far as evaluating robotics from that standpoint.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:31] So what how how are robotics fitting into this space?
Bob Bafundo: [00:03:36] Well, we’re doing we’re doing some testing right now. We’ve been in test for about six weeks in our Crestview Hills location in northern Kentucky, just outside of Cincinnati. And in that location, we are evaluating what essentially is a fry cook, a robot that handles the cooking of our wings, of our boneless wings, of our fried fish. And all our fried items are being evaluated right now as a as a way for the the robot to basically take away some of the more difficult tasks that go into working the back of the house that wings and rings.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:20] So is that I mean, that sounds so futuristic. Is that something that’s becoming more realistic nowadays?
Bob Bafundo: [00:04:27] It is. You know, I would say that the need has always been there. And now you’ve got great companies like Miso Robotics who we are partnering with. And MISO is really brought in a team of amazing engineers and they really understand the restaurant business and understand how to program the robot to do exactly what we need it to do and even to customize it to our individual recipes. So it’s becoming more. More and more viable every day. I would say initially, Leigh, we got into it purely from the standpoint of saying how do we reduce the Labor it takes to operate one of our restaurants? But I think as we’ve gotten deeper into it, we see other benefits coming to the forefront now and those include more consistent quality product and just just the ability for us to deliver, deliver things more consistently and and potentially move some of our labor from the back of the house in the customer service positions, especially in an environment where many restaurants are struggling just to just to staff the front of the house with servers.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:43] Yeah, I would imagine that there’s a better use of humans in in the front of the house interacting with other humans, rather the back of the house interacting with hot oil.
Bob Bafundo: [00:05:56] Exactly. Hit the nail on the head. It’s always a little warmer in the back of the house. That’s always a little more demanding on our employees. And so we feel like it’s a step towards improving the environment and our restaurants and allowing people to spend more time on that, on that personal interaction with our guests.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:19] So what kind of is the back story of wings and rings? How did it kind of initially get started?
Bob Bafundo: [00:06:28] Our concept. Wings and rings.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:30] Yeah.
Bob Bafundo: [00:06:31] You know, just initially, I think in the mid eighties with the popularity of other wing concepts starting to take off and the sports bar concepts starting to take off, the original founder worked hard to to get up and get in the game and get something going. And, you know, initially the the restaurant was very successful just serving wings and beer basically, and and playing in that segment. But I think as the brand began to grow, you know, there’s difference between running one or two restaurants successfully and then being able to franchise a concept and being able to provide the support to franchisees through systems and processes that that make restaurants successful. So I think that’s where current ownership has done a great job of of developing those systems and really building the brand. And we continue to grow well today we, you know, up through COVID, we had 12 consecutive years of same store sales growth, which is very uncommon within the industry.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:46] Now, as a veteran kind of in this industry, what are some of the traits of those brands that you think have a chance to be a breakout brand and really resonate and be franchises? Well.
Bob Bafundo: [00:08:00] You know, it I think a great question, Leigh. I think most people would start by saying, you know, gosh, is it unique in some way, shape or form? And that could be through menu differentiation. That could be through. Why would either way the food is prepared. That is always I think where the. Opportunity begins for a brand to grow. But I think more importantly than anything is really refining the process. It’s it’s taking the successful business model that exists at one store, five stores or ten stores. And it’s coming up with a process to replicate that successfully and consistently going forward. So, you know, a lot of people would think that, you know, your best franchisees are entrepreneurial, they’re creative. They’re they want to experiment with different things. Actually, most franchisees that are successful enjoy the battle on a daily basis. But more than anything, they want a system they want to execute. They want to. They want to. They want somebody to give them a playbook. And they want to be able to run that playbook consistently, day in, day out.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:22] Now, from a franchisee standpoint, do you have kind of a profile of who the ideal franchisee is? This somebody that has a portfolio already and is adding this as a kind of complementary brand? Or is it somebody who’s kind of leaning into wings and brings as their primary kind of revenue source?
Bob Bafundo: [00:09:41] Again, great question. You know, there are a couple of different paths to success. To be honest with you. And in some cases, you know, I think most chains love the opportunity to work with multi brand, multi unit franchisees. So people that maybe already have the infrastructure in place and and have support in place to deal with other brands, especially in a common geography. So adding wings and rings to your portfolio is always a great, a great way to move quickly and to be successful. But that said, we’ve got many successful franchisees in our system that are owner operators. These are people that grew up in the restaurants and learned how to run one restaurant and and then eventually took the opportunity and took that that leap and that risk into ownership and have done really well with it. So a couple of different paths for sure.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:50] But you don’t necessarily have to have restaurant experience.
Bob Bafundo: [00:10:56] We we have some people in the system that have successfully moved from outside the restaurant industry into a single unit franchise. It’s it’s just not very common. But we do have those as well.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:15] But so then the folks might be somebody that’s worked in restaurants, maybe frustrated, and then said, hey, I want my own thing. And this is a good kind of place to start in terms of, hey, I already have a tested system. I already have experience in the in the restaurant. But this gives me kind of a blueprint and a framework to work from, and that’s kind of hedging me in terms of having a successful operation.
Bob Bafundo: [00:11:41] Yeah. I think I think most folks and I would say this is true for any brand in the restaurant segment. Most folks have learned the restaurant business in in some other concept, kind of grown up operating restaurants and then want to take a shot at ownership and look for opportunities with brands they they can grow with, with brands they like and that they’re proud of, and they look for those opportunities and jump into them.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:14] So as you expand, are you focusing on certain regions and territories or is kind of the world your oyster at this point?
Bob Bafundo: [00:12:22] No, we think it’s important for us to continue to as a small brand. You know, obviously, compared to the McDonald’s and the subways of the world, we’re a very small brand. And so for us, continuing to build brand awareness for wings and rings is really important. And as a result, we have a couple of different core markets. We’re very solid in Ohio and surrounding states like Kentucky and Indiana. So we’re continuing to focus on growth in those markets. And then we have another solid patch of development in south Texas. We continue to grow very rapidly down there. That’s where a lot of our current growth is coming from that South Texas market. And so for us, it’s about filling in the markets we’re already in rather than flying to Hawaii and trying to figure that out. That’s that just doesn’t make a lot of sense for us right now.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:25] Now, what about the footprint of the restaurants? Are they has that changed like maybe post-pandemic or are they the same size as they were prior?
Bob Bafundo: [00:13:34] Yes, it has changed. And actually it began to change pre-pandemic. And again, give give current ownership and leadership the credit there. Our traditional building was 6000 square feet. But in October of 2020, we opened our new prototype, which we call G four, just abbreviation for Generation four building. And that building is now 5000 square feet. But it also includes what we call a valet pickup or a pickup window. So in other words. People that order online or or call into the restaurant don’t have to get out of their car. They can swing through a valet pickup and have their food brought to them. They’re most likely, if pre-paid by credit card, either on the website or through a third party delivery company. And as a result, just swing through and pick up their food. So I say all that because ownership really saw the trends change, changing for the restaurant business and saw off premise in all shapes and forms, whether it’s carryout, whether it’s delivery, whether it’s catering, saw all of those segments continuing to grow and continuing to do well going forward. And so we felt like there was the opportunity to shrink the size of the building a little bit and still be able to hit the volume numbers we needed, but also to be able to better handle the ever growing side of the business associated with off premise.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:27] Now is the person that’s kind of coming up to that valet window. Is that percentage just kind of trending up that it’s more and more every year?
Bob Bafundo: [00:15:38] Yeah, we’ve got it, I think in four restaurants currently and it definitely outperforms the rest of our restaurants, which where typically we have curbside pickup or we might have somebody park and come into the restaurant. It’s definitely outperforming those previous approaches that we took, and it’s just so easy and so quick for the guest that it’s really been a big hit.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:11] Yeah, it’s a fascinating trend in the marketplace, that curbside. I mean, it’s just really a it’s a different kind of experience that people are having an expectation for nowadays to be able to order on an app or on a website. And then just some, you know, you text or however you communicate and say, hey, I’m here and and someone hands you your food. I mean, it’s kind of going back into the the old days with the, you know, the the people on skates handing you your food in the parking lot, you know.
Bob Bafundo: [00:16:42] You’re exactly right. You’re exactly right. Different experience, but it seems to be a good fit for the time. So, you know, we plan to not only incorporate valet pickup as part of our prototype design going forward, all of our new restaurants are opening with that. But we anticipate we’ll also experiment with retrofitting the valet pickup door onto onto existing restaurants. And and I failed to mention, by the way, this is not just a window. This is this is a sliding glass door. We actually walk out and greet the guest at their car, validate or verify who they are and what their order was, and then come back with the food. So, you know, typically they’re there in and out and less than a minute.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:33] Yeah. And it’s that personal touch, you know, the human to human interaction.
Bob Bafundo: [00:17:38] That’s right. That’s right.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:40] Well, Bob, if somebody wants to learn more about the opportunity or the the restaurant, what is the website?
Bob Bafundo: [00:17:47] The website is w w w wings and rings dot com. So easy to remember.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:53] Good stuff. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Bob Bafundo: [00:17:58] Thanks so much, Lee. We appreciate your interest.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:00] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you all next time on Franchise Marketing Radio.