Playing Chicken

Detroit Wing Co. weathered COVID-19, but now faces rising prices for chicken wings.
chicken wings
Flight of Fancy – Detroit Wing Co. has grown to 10 stores since its founding in 2015. Over the next two years, the enterprise plans to double in size across Michigan. // Courtesy of Detroit Wing Co.

Despite a shortage of chicken wings, labor challenges, and trying to find a suitable location for a commissary amid a tight market for industrial space, Detroit Wing Co. is expanding.

Since its launch in 2015, the company has grown to include 10 stores, each of which makes a range of sauces fresh every morning. To streamline production, Gus Malliaras, owner of Detroit Wing Co., wanted to open a commissary where his team could make the sauces in bulk without losing the handmade quality, both to increase the consistency and to provide for future growth.

“We finally found a property in Warren that had a big enough footprint for us … but before the ink was even dry on the purchase agreement, we outgrew that,” Malliaras says.

The pandemic wasn’t good for most businesses, but due in large part to its carryout and delivery model, Detroit Wing Co. made it to the other side. Now it’s experiencing growing pains.

For the commissary, a project that started out as a $3 million investment has ballooned to somewhere between $10 million and $15 million, and 50,000 square feet of space. Malliaras wants to build the facility in Detroit instead of buying an existing industrial space; to do that, he says patience is key.

With 16 stores set to open in late 2021 to early 2022, and plans to double that next year, Malliaras wants to be certain the new facility will last. So for now, the company is building a mini-commissary off the back of its Eastpointe location.

“The mini-commissary is giving us enough time to build (a new facility) the right way,” he says. “The (new) commissary will get us to several hundred stores rather than trying to fit into something we’re going to outgrow next year.”

Apart from growth plans, Malliaras has his hands full meeting current orders. “The price of chicken wings has nearly doubled over the last 12 months. We’ve raised our prices, but only by a few percent. We’re weathering the storm right now, but relief can’t come soon enough,” he says.

Many factors have contributed to the shortage of chicken wings, including processing plants struggling to find employees to meet demand, and the large number of livestock that perished in the deep freeze that swept across Texas earlier this year.

This issue hasn’t put a damper on Malliaras’ expectations for the company in the coming years, as new locations begin opening around the state. “The quality of the stores and the quality of the operations are always going to be the No. 1 priority,” he says.