WESLEY CHAPEL Since its grand opening, the parking lot at Ker’s WingHouse doesn’t stay empty much. Maybe at night — after closing time.
The restaurant, which sits at Post Oak and Wesley Chapel boulevards, opened for business on June 6 and has experienced large crowds each day.
“They’re excited about it,” Eric Ratcliff, general manager of the restaurant, said of customers. “The comments are made that they really needed something in this area because it really is a drive to get somewhere, and they wanted something close … and we’re close.”
Mark Halvorsen, who lives in nearby Grand Oaks, polished off a beer with his in-laws Wednesday afternoon. He’s convinced the restaurant has added life to a corner that once sat empty for four years.
“I think the atmosphere they’ve created here, it energizes this corner of Wesley Chapel. The food’s great. Ker’s WingHouse has always had good food.”
Halvorsen’s mother-in-law, Mary Schroers, said she had to be convinced to go to the opening on June 6. She enjoyed it, but Wednesday she was hooked.
“This is my second time back here, and when I walked through that door, the young girls recognized me,” Schroers said. “That made my heart feel so good.”
Added husband Jack Schroers: “If you’re talking about fast food, it’s the best place to start. There’s some bad stuff out there.”
Watching U.S. Open golf tournament practice on a cluster of four large TV screens, taking up the majority of a wall, Jeff Gonzalez gave his approval.
“It’s a WingHouse, and expectations were what I thought they would be,” he said.
The Tampa resident, who works in Wesley Chapel, said the level of service he received was so good, he’ll keep coming back.
From the name on the building, it’s clear what Ker’s specializes in, wings, from breaded to skinless. It also has burgers, wraps, soups, salads and fries. Adorned with sports memorabilia, large-screen televisions, and a full liquor bar, the restaurant has a reputation for showing live pay-per-view events such as boxing and mixed martial arts.
The restaurant’s popularity was apparent the night before it officially opened. As crews finished final preparations, at least three tents were erected nearby. They were customers who wanted to ensure their place in line.
The Wesley Chapel location is the company’s 22nd and the second in Pasco County. The first Pasco WingHouse opened in New Port Richey, 6515 US 19 N.
The Wesley Chapel restaurant has hired about 130 people, and that number could soon increase.
“We thought we had enough, and we were wrong,” Ratcliff said. “Everybody’s really thankful to be able to come to work somewhere that’s close. They don’t have to travel to go to work.”
Wesley Chapel native Candace Littrell, a bartender, is one of those employees.
“We want to do well because we have so many regulars and so many people that we know and grew up with. I saw my old PE coach last night,” she said. “It allows you to make those connections and see everybody. You have all these people coming, like the Honda dealership. You have all these people coming in from the dealership; you’re like, I want to go even if I just need an oil change because you come over and support me. I want to support you in this economy. You want to survive, and you want everyone else to survive, too.”
This is one of several expansions the company hopes to complete in 2013. It expects to open as many as five restaurants this year throughout the state.
In July, Ratcliff will head to Fort Myers to assist in opening that restaurant. He said the Wesley Chapel location will be his home base.
Construction on the Post Oak Boulevard site began the first week in April, revamping what was once a Buffalo’s Southwest Cafe. The final touches came the morning of the opening as Ratcliff spent a portion of that time adding the red strings of lights that line the interior.
Even though it’s about a week old, there are already plans to add seating inside, in addition to more circular fans and television screens in the outdoor seating area.
The company’s founder and CEO is Crawford Ker, a former NFL and University of Florida football player. The Dunedin native opened his first restaurant in 1994 in Largo, and the business has expanded as far north as Gainesville and down to Bradenton.
Initially, the location was turned down by someone who scouted the site for the restaurant. Ratcliff and others decided to make a second effort and take a drive in the area with a couple of people who lived here.
“We came out again, kind of second-guessed it, so we drove back out again and started going through the neighborhoods and seeing what was around,” Ratcliff said. “We did a second take, and we found out how big the communities were and how far back the housing developments went. We were like, ‘OK, we have to do this.’”