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How Buffalo Wild Wings plans to magically transform into America's greatest sports bar

Brian Sozzi
Editor-at-Large

Bring on dat’ hand-breaded chicken wing, B-Dubs.

The onetime struggling chicken wing joint scooped up by Inspire Brands for only $2.9 billion in 2017 is about to enter the next phase in its turnaround plan, Yahoo Finance has learned. Buffalo Wild Wings executives tell Yahoo Finance it continues to pare down its once-bloated menu and reinvest the savings in items that position the brand as the “great American sports bar.”

In are giant chicken sandwiches slathered with sauce and topped with coleslaw — served of course on the square metal plates synonymous with pub grub. Out are shrimp and several slow-moving cocktails on the menu. In later this year are hand-battered chicken wings opposed to the frozen ready-to-use product Buffalo Wild had used.

Buffalo Wild Wings’ new head chef Jamie Carawan — a bearded veteran of the pub scene — tells Yahoo Finance breading chicken wings by hand is old-school and won’t add much more to the wait time. The product should taste better, too.

The company will also return to its original buffalo wing sauce used years ago. Carawan says he may even begin experimenting with cheese boards at B-Dubs.

Carawan acknowledges the brand fell hard in recent years as it focused on cutting costs in what has been a challenging casual dining space. But that is no more.

Revitalizing Buffalo Wild Wings

The changes at Buffalo Wild began a few months back.

Some of them were as simple as using copper cups for certain cocktails as well as new uniforms and training for servers. Both of which are meant to upgrade a dining experience that deteriorated under prior management and led to the chain’s sale.

Amid pressured sales and profits for much of 2016 and 2017, Buffalo Wild Wings found activist investor Marcado Capital calling in 2017. The activist investor pushed long-time Buffalo Wild Wings management to sell off the restaurants it owned to boost cash and overhaul its flagging operations. Buffalo Wild Wings executives were resistant to both and with its stock price under pressure, the company decided to sell to Roark Capital-backed Arby’s in late 2017.

Inspire Brands CEO Paul Brown and his team have since been working to figure out who the core Buffalo Wild Wings customer is and how best to serve them. That’s in addition to retraining workers and bolstering operations, since nobody wants to wait 30 minutes for wings on game day (slow service has been a problem). Brown conceded in an interview earlier this year the turnaround at Buffalo Wild Wings will take time.

The next logical step for Inspire Brands — with Arby’s doing well and Buffalo Wild Wings’ revival progressing — is to maximize value via an initial public offering. It could also be good timing for an IPO with upcoming initiatives to jolt up Sonic, which Inspire bought in September 2018 for $2.3 billion.

But it might make sense to hold off on an IPO. It’s best to pitch a vibrant, successful turnaround story to potential investors as opposed to one where everything isn’t yet firing on all 12 cylinders.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-host of ‘The First Trade’ at Yahoo Finance. Follow Brian Sozzi him on Twitter @BrianSozzi

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