Gus Malliaras grew up waiting tables in the restaurant trade — his great-grandparents started the popular New Hella’s in Detroit’s Greektown district in 1901. When he took a second turn in the culinary field in 2007, opening his own eatery, he quickly learned that working tables was much easier than running a restaurant.
“I started a Coney Island (in 2007) in Warren, and we had 90 items on the menu that were made from scratch, but (I) realized over time that more is not more,” Malliaras says. “I had a great kitchen crew, but we spent so much time cooking that (I began to) realize there must be a better way.”
After closing the restaurant in 2014, he followed the mantra that “less is more” and launched Detroit Wing Co. a year later. “I started using my restaurant as a test kitchen because I still had time on the lease, and from there Detroit Wing Co. was born,” he says. “We have classic and boneless chicken wings, chicken tenders, a few sides, a New York-style cheesecake, and 16 signature sauces. Everything is made from scratch.”
If the goal was to streamline the operation and vastly reduce overhead, there’s no doubt the mission was accomplished. Each Detroit Wing Co. location — Eastpointe, Chesterfield Township, Southfield, and Taylor — is around 1,000 square feet in size and requires only a few employees to operate.
There’s also a Detroit Wing Co. at the MGM Grand Detroit that’s run by the casino’s culinary team. “That was an unusual deal, in that I lived at the MGM hotel for a few days to teach the staff how to prepare everything,” Malliaras says. “Now all we do is make deliveries, and they take care of the rest.”
At first, the non-casino locations were open six days a week, closing on Sunday. But the demand for wings and other fare during football games soon proved to be too great to ignore. Malliaras also launched a catering business, and while franchising would seem the next natural progression, he’s resisted the temptation to take things national.
“Right now, franchising isn’t a model I’m looking at,” Malliaras says. “I like that I can travel between the restaurants, and I have cousins running them so it’s a family business in that sense. If we went to another region, like Chicago, you’d have to factor in the travel and all the other things that come into play.”
Next up, the chef is eyeing expansion opportunities in Canton Township, Rochester Hills, and Royal Oak, and is considering building out a catering trailer with around a dozen fryers. “We could cook more wings in the trailer than in a restaurant,” he says. “That means being (able to be) at football games, which would suit me just fine.”