From the signing of two international deals in London and Poland, to rolling out innovative and record-breaking LTOs, Buffalo Wings & Rings has had quite the year. And thanks to franchisee Mark Cross, the opening of the brand’s first restaurant in Tennessee is an important part of 2016’s list of accolades.
Cross grew up 100 miles west of Chicago, in Byron, Illinois. A self-proclaimed “farm boy from northern Illinois,” Cross found a path out of his hometown by playing football in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. When Cross was only 15 years old, he lost his older brother, Mike, in a Christmas Eve car accident. Mike was also his mentor – and that tragic loss changed Mark’s life forever. Dedicating himself to football more than ever before, he was good enough to earn a college football scholarship to Northeast Missouri State as a fullback, and credits much of his success in business to the discipline, dedication and attitude he learned on the gridiron.
After graduating from Northeast Missouri State, Cross followed many of his friends into the sales field. He wore a suit and tie for ten years selling hardware and software solutions in the financial industry, mainly dealing with check imaging solutions.
But the job never made Cross truly happy, and after a series of tragic events involving the death of his best friend from college in 2005 and his father (61) to terminal brain cancer in 2007, Cross was hungry for a sign to head in a different direction. His answer came in the form of Jersey Mike’s. After being told how great their sandwiches were, he tried it out and knew this was a business he wanted to join. So, he made the leap into restaurant ownership. Cross brought Jersey Mike’s to Illinois in 2009 and was committed to opening five Jersey Mike’s over the next four years.
But that was just the beginning of business ownership for Cross. While running his Jersey Mike’s location in Naperville, he visited a nearby Buffalo Wings & Rings. To this day, he says they were the best wings he ever had. That experience alone convinced him to research a franchising opportunity with the brand, and he began checking out locations for development in Cool Springs, Tennessee. By November 2016, he was opening the doors to the state’s very first Buffalo Wings & Rings.
“The greater Nashville metropolitan area is such a phenomenal market. The Cool Springs area alone, with the job growth and thriving economy, it seemed a natural fit to plant a stake in the ground,” Cross said. “There’s nothing else like Buffalo Wings & Rings around here—their fresh, never frozen chicken and attention to detail is what made me fall in love with the brand. There’s no doubt that plenty of other Tennesseans will fall in love with the brand for that same reason, too.”
The new Cool Springs location is part of Buffalo Wings & Rings’ ongoing initiative to strategically expand across the country. After building a strong presence in a specific target area, the 70-unit brand then opens its doors where it knows there’s a heightened level of brand awareness surrounding its business. This exposure ultimately sets its franchisees up for success. For that reason, Philip Schram, the chief development officer for Buffalo Wings & rings, believes that this is just the beginning for the brand’s growth in Tennessee. Cities like Chattanooga especially are important target markets for development in the year ahead.
“The Nashville market is the ideal place to start for us because of its similar size to Cincinnati. Our plan is to ultimately open four to five more around Middle Tennessee in the next three to five years, and we would like to have as many as nine to 10 locations 10 to 15 years from now,” Schram said. “We’re fortunate to have dedicated franchisees like Mark who are eager to pave the way for the brand in new states. We have every reason to believe that Tennessee will evolve into an important market for Buffalo Wings & Rings as growth continues.”