Atlanta-based restaurant chain’s CEO: sales actually up during pandemic

Atlanta-based Wing Zone has seen sales for its takeout-focused restaurants increase during the last couple weeks of the pandemic, compared to a year ago, according to chief executive officer Matt Friedman. Meanwhile, the U.S. restaurant industry as a whole has seen sales plummet. Photo courtesy of Wing Zone

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Atlanta-based Wing Zone has seen sales for its takeout-focused restaurants increase during the last couple weeks of the pandemic, compared to a year ago, according to chief executive officer Matt Friedman. Meanwhile, the U.S. restaurant industry as a whole has seen sales plummet. Photo courtesy of Wing Zone

Fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has clobbered most metro Atlanta restaurants, but the leader of at least one locally based chain says its sales are up.

Wing Zone chief executive and founder Matt Friedman said the 90-plus restaurants in the system — most of them operated by franchisees — have long focused primarily on takeout and delivery. That’s helped lately, he said, as people avoid going out.

Sales for Wing Zone-branded restaurants are up 6% or more in the last couple weeks compared to the same period a year ago, Friedman said Friday.

“We are doing very well right now as far as restaurants being able to actually thrive during this pandemic,” he said.

“We are humbled and lucky, I guess, but it is our model that lends itself at this time,” he added.

Many restaurants in metro Atlanta saw sales plummet even before government restrictions barred in-restaurant dining and allowed only takeout, delivery and pickup. Some restaurants have temporarily closed and nationally there are projections that tens of thousands could be shuttered permanently depending on how long the pandemic lasts.

Friedman’s company hasn’t been immune to the pain. The business includes three WZ Taverns, which relied primarily on sit-down patrons. Take-out orders have increased for the WZ restaurants, he said, but their overall sales are still half what they were a year ago. Some takeout-focused Wing Zones in college towns where campuses have closed also have seen dips, even as others have not, he said.

Overall, Friedman said Wing Zones are hiring more delivery drivers, particularly former Uber and Lyft drivers who have seen rides dip in recent weeks. Wing Zone has stopped accepting cash payments from customers for deliveries, required drivers to wear fresh gloves for each drop-off and promoted “contact-less delivery” as well as curbside pickup to reassure customers.

“I think trust is the most important thing right now,” Friedman said.