Wingers Franchisees Reap Rewards after Taking Chance on New Location

Wingers Franchisees Reap Rewards after Taking Chance on New Location

The Key Ingredients That Turned Wingers Vernal into a Sales Powerhouse

In 2017, Jeff Creer (in video above) made the three-hour drive from his home in Salt Lake City to Vernal, Utah, with the intention of closing his Wingers Diner. He met with then-general manager Eric Gunter, and plans changed.

This year, that Wingers Restaurant & Alehouse in tiny Vernal will do $3.5 million in sales, making it the No. 1 location in the Wingers system. Here’s how it happened.

Wingers Restaurant & Alehouse franchise
Wingers franchisee Eric Gunter

A Reluctant Restaurateur

Creer, a real estate developer, had no specific desire to be in the food service industry. He came to own his first restaurant, which was in an Idaho shopping center he was developing in 2005, because the Wingers franchisee decided he didn’t have the money to complete the project. The restaurant was an important tenant in the shopping center, so Creer reluctantly partnered with the franchisee to get the restaurant open and running.

Creer subsequently partnered in a few other restaurants and sold them all, including the Wingers Diner in Vernal. But the new owner of the Vernal restaurant defaulted on the note, and it returned to Creer’s ownership.

“I was ready to shut it down and walk away,” Creer says. “The building was dilapidated. The area was settling, causing structural damage. When it rained, they had five or six pales to catch the leaks.”

A New Wingers Location

Even in that small, older diner location, Gunter and his staff had grown sales from $16,000 to almost $25,000 a week in the three years since he had become the GM. He had previously worked his way up from cook at a Cracker Barrel into managerial positions with that brand, as well as Brick Oven Pizza and Pasta, and eventually Wingers. Eric also had helped open a new Wingers Restaurant & Alehouse location in Idaho as part of the new store training team, which was a new direction and image for Wingers at that time. “I was really impressed with the revitalized concept and the direction Wingers was going in at that time,” he says.

“I talked to Jeff, and I say, ‘Hey, let’s find another place and turn this Wingers Diner into a Wingers Alehouse, and if you give me an opportunity, I think we can make a go of it, and it’ll be really successful.”

Creer recalls the conversation: “I was tired and kind of frustrated with a previous partner, but in the end, I told Eric, ‘OK, just tell me what you need and what you would want.’”

Gunter said a new location “would make all the difference in the world.”

Exceeding all Expectations

Creer negotiated a lease on a larger space in a multi-tenant building a few blocks from the existing diner. He made Gunter his operations partner. And in about eight months, they closed the old Wingers Diner and two days later opened the new Wingers Restaurant & Alehouse.

Both Gunter and Creer believed sales would increase in the new location, but they hadn’t imagined the actual results. “I thought he’s going to jump up to maybe $28,000 with a new location and brand-new building,” Creer says. “Well, he did. “He jumped up to about $33,000 the first couple of months. And over the last five years, he has increased sales every year to where now he’s doing between $70,000 and $75,000 a week in sales. For any full-service restaurant concept, that’s very good. For a small Wingers restaurant in Vernal, Utah, he’s done incredible.”

Wingers Restaurant & Alehouse franchise
Wingers Restaurant & Alehouse franchise

Creer credits Gunter with the success. “I was ready to shut it down and walk away, but I invested in Eric. He was confident and passionate about the business,” he says. “I know the Wingers Alehouse menu is a very good menu, and the food is very good, but the experience he provides is what brings patrons back.”

Investing in the Future

Since opening in 2018, Creer and Gunter have expanded the restaurant from 3,800 to more than 5,300 square feet and added a patio and pergola for outdoor dining. They’re looking at locations for another Wingers in Rock Springs, Wyo., with a goal of opening by next year, Creer says.

They’ve had the support of franchisors Eric and Scott Slaymaker. “They’re always available to talk and discuss,” Creer says. “They appreciate a lot of Eric [Gunter’s] feedback because he’s a great operator. If he sees something that they could change or modify or make more efficient, Eric and Scott Slaymaker will take that into consideration for sure.”

Gunter is grateful for the opportunities. “There’s no greater satisfaction than being able to watch your restaurant run, and everybody is clicking, the kitchen is on point, and you’re taking food out to people and seeing smiles on their faces, knowing we’ve created that experience that we’re after.”

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Lisa Ocker’s career began at her hometown paper, The Baytown Sun, covering everything from city government to chemical plant disasters, a hurricane and a controversial FEMA buyout of a flood-plagued neighborhood. From there, she moved to South Florida, reporting for the Palm Beach Post and South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspapers, and serving as editor of the regional magazine, Boca Raton. Returning to her home state, she led the re-launch of SUCCESS magazine as editor after a Texas-based entrepreneur bought the 100-year-old brand.

Lisa’s work also has appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Newsweek. She has covered major news events including the space shuttle Challenger explosion and the rape trial and acquittal of William Kennedy Smith, nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Edward Kennedy. Her coverage of immigration issues included reporting on Haitian and Cuban refugee crises while traveling with the U.S. Coast Guard and from the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Her work with SUCCESS included profiles of entrepreneurs Steve Case, Ted Turner and the late Tony Hsieh.

Now living in and working from Santa Fe, NM, Lisa enjoys sharing the challenges and successes of franchisees and franchisors as a contributor to FranchiseWire and Franchise Consultant Magazine.
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