By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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LOVES PARK — A business that was born out of the pandemic as a “ghost restaurant” — the nickname given to delivery and curbside-service only enterprises — is preparing to open its first brick-and-mortar establishment.
Baked Wings‘ new restaurant at 6290 E. Riverside Blvd. won’t be its last if the company’s expansion plans come to fruition.
In other words, get ready to start seeing ghosts.
“Once we get this one cranking, it’s time to start looking for location number two,” said Scott Frank, who runs the restaurant with his business partner Bryan Suh.
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Baked Wings became a delivery option served out of The Pomodoro, the Italian restaurant Frank runs with his wife, Brittany, during the state-mandated shutdowns meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
“The brand really exploded,” Frank said Wednesday in an interview with the Rock River Current. “There were weeks where it was responsible for 40-50% of our curbside and delivery sales.”
Now it’s getting its own storefront, just a few buildings down from The Pomodoro at 6500 E. Riverside Blvd. The restaurant is taking over the former Eggspress Cafe, which never reopened its interior after the March 2020 shutdown. The space is being remodeled with a goal to open in mid-September.
But the five-year goal is to expand into college towns and other markets primed for its fast-service dry rub chicken wings and other specialties.
“We’re pretty happy with life at The Pomodoro,” Frank said. “There’s just going to be one Pomodoro, but there’s going to be lots of Baked Wings.”
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The business duo has had expansion in mind as they develop their first brick-and-mortar.
“Everything we do, to the smallest detail, we think about will this work for five,” Suh said. “Will it work for 20? If they answer is no we cut that out of the plans.”
Frank and Suh have a long history together going back to a family friendship when they were kids. Suh also has a rich history in food service. His family created Uncle John’s, Aunt Mary’s and Mary’s Market, which Suh sold in 2013 when he started working for U.S. Foods.
And Suh was one of the first people Scott and Brittany Frank called more than three years ago after they purchased Ciao Bella, which they turned into The Pomodoro.
“Bryan turned into a great mentor and friend and fantastic sales guy,” Frank said.
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They worked diligently to test their bone-in baked chicken wings to make sure they stayed crispy during delivery before they opened Baked Wings. Frank would test the dry rubs by shipping them over to his friend Josh Binning, who owns Lucha Cantina at the Edgebrook Shopping Center.
Now, at the new brick-and-mortar, they’ll expand the selection of chicken from bone-in wings to tenders, sandwiches and seared chicken breasts. They plan to cook tenders and chicken breasts sous vide, a way of vacuum sealing food and cooking it at a precise temperature.
“We’ve perfected the tenders and the chicken-breast sandwiches to be sous vide,” Suh said. “We are still going to bake our wings traditionally.”
Baked Wings is envisioned as a tech-forward restaurant with kiosks to order from at the front and a QR code to order and pay right from your table. They’re also working on plans to order and pay from a mobile device and then use the drive-thru lane to pick it up.
Or, you can sit down at a table or on one of the 16 bar stools in front of three 65-inch TVs or the 82-inch TV on the east wall.
“It depends on your schedule, how fast you want to move, how slow you want to move,” Suh said. “That’s the environment I want to create.”
What started as a “ghost restaurant” hidden inside another establishment could be seen all over the country if Frank and Suh meet their goals.
“I strongly believe you’ll see lots of Baked Wings T-shirts, trucker hats and hoodies flying around the Rockfofrd area this fall, and hopefully to a city near you soon if you don’t live in the Rockford area,” Frank said.