How new marketing executive will help East Coast Wings + Grill add locations, customers



East Coast Wings + Grill is putting its five-year growth strategy – including signing for 10 more locations and opening four by the end of 2024 – into place with a key hire.

The restaurant franchise has hired Ashley Mitchell as its vice president of marketing to help East Coast Wings + Grill elevate brand awareness and local store marketing. The chain, based in Winston-Salem, N.C., said it also hired a multi-unit manager for the brand’s corporate locations and a franchise business coach.

Bringing more than a dozen years of consumer marketing experience, Mitchell has worked at The Walt Disney Company as well as franchise companies such as Goldfish Swim School, Soccer Shots and Streamline Brands.

“Over the past few years, we have been meticulous, patient and laser-focused on creating a multi-brand strategy within our ecosystem and within our brand to attract new talent and drive our growth,” said Sam Ballas, CEO and founder of East Coast. “Bringing on a heavy hitter like Ashley is the talent reboot we have been preparing for. Our plan is all coming together at this moment, and it is the perfect partnership to throttle East Coast Wings + Grill into the next gear.”

Today, East Coast Wings + Grill has more than 35 locations across five states, including more than a dozen in the Triad. The chain reports that its locations bring in an average of $2.5 million in gross sales each year and get a 22% return on investment for its franchisees, with a 92% success rate.

East Coast Wings + Grill will look to grow east of the Mississippi, in markets such as Memphis, Nashville, Baltimore, Philadelphia and the Triangle in North Carolina, Mitchell told TBJ. She said some of these are markets where the chain already has locations, but some are new.

The chain often has franchisees who want to add additional locations. Other times it’s a customer who wants to bring the restaurant to their own community or a friend of a franchisee, in additional to traditional marketing methods, Mitchell said.

Once the chain starts talking to a potential franchisee, it takes about six months to make sure they are a good fit for both East Coast Wings and the individual. The time to find a location and build it can vary greatly, Mitchell said.

Triad Business Journal sat down with Mitchell to discuss her plans to build out a marketing team and tell East Coast Wings + Grill’s story as the chain looks to grow.

(This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.)

What does East Coast’s five-year growth strategy look like and what your role be?

The brand has built a strong foundation. We have committed franchisees and strong numbers at a unit level. We’re looking to grow with more locations in areas where we already are as well as growing more across the East Coast. Where I come in is to tell our story. We have a great story, and I don’t think we tell it enough. That is the role I’m going to play and I’m excited to do that both by telling the story to the communities we’re already in to increase guest visits and telling the story to other people to bring East Coast Wings + Grills to their communities.

What are your goals in your first year?

Building out the team is something I’m excited to do. I have an opportunity to do that here and help enhance what the East Coast Wings + Grill team has already done and then elevate it from a marketing standpoint. [I also want] to be able to give franchisees more access. They didn’t get into this to do marketing. That’s why I got into it. Being able to give them more tools and resources is something that I’m also excited about. And then just growing awareness of the brand outside of the markets that it’s in already. I feel like I’ve said it a lot but shouting our story from the rooftops and getting it in front of people.

Do you know how many people you will be looking to hire?

I’m figuring it out right now. We have a team in place and [I’m looking at] what things can we do more of if we have other people or what pieces can I take off somebody else’s plate and put on somebody else’s depending on people’s strengths and weaknesses.

How do you build brand awareness?

There’s never one silver bullet. It’s getting organic content out there. We have a. lot going on and we [need to show] who we are and why we’re doing what we’re doing and how we’re doing. Then there’s the paid portion where we’re doing some targeting in areas that we want to be in. We need to make sure that our message is right for the right audience in the right place. The message [when talking to an existing franchisee of another brand] is going to be very different than talking to somebody that doesn’t have a restaurant background but wants to get into it. It’s putting that right message in the right place for the right people to see it.

What makes East Coast Wings better than other wing chains, both for customers and perspective franchises?

First and foremost, it’s the experience. That’s what’s different when customers walk into an East Coast Wings + Grill. They’re going to come in and have great food and they’re going to have a great server. They’re going to have a great memory of being there. We have 50 wing flavors and different heat indexes. Others don’t do that. If you don’t like your wings hot, you can get a flavor that traditionally is a super-hot and get it without the heat. If you really want the heat, you can get the insanity level and go for it.

From a franchise owner perspective, it is our focus on the unit-level economics. It’s not just about growing our bottom line; it’s about growing [the franchisee’s]. We have a unit-level economics department. I don’t know that any other [restaurant franchise that has that]. Every single day, we get a report of every location, what their sales were the day before and what that looks like comparedto the year before. We can see things like where you’re doing great or if your food or labor cost was high or your accuracy on third-party orders. We dig into those details for the franchisees so that they can really run their business. We can tell them things that we’re seeing and then we can also look at trends across the board and see where we need to make some changes as a community or if a problem is specific to a location to help them fix that.