Wingman Rodeo thriving on Santa Barbara’s Eastside
Colton Krueger was living in New York City when he learned about a nearby ghost kitchen that had a massive following.
Nearly every night outside of his apartment, there would be long lines of people waiting to get their chicken wing fix. He decided to give them a try, and almost immediately thought he could make a better wing.
The San Antonio, Texas, native, who also works in finance for Deckers Brand, then began to examine the wing business. He had discussions with an activist investor and realized there was a robust market.
After relocating from New York to Southern California, Mr. Krueger came to find out that the only real options nearby were Wingstop and Buffalo Wild Wings.
“We knew it was a really good food to-go, delivery and that sort of thing,” he told the News-Press on the patio of his new business, Wingman Rodeo, at 730 N. Milpas St. “We kind of knew that would be a growing space.”
Mr. Krueger, along with partners Dudley Michael and Ryan Patronyk, then set out plans to open a ghost kitchen offering delivery only meals near USC’s campus. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and those plans were put on hold.
Mr. Krueger had a previous relationship with Mr. Michael, who has owned The Shop Kitchen for the past seven-plus years, and the two began making wings and sauces. Mr. Krueger’s father-in-law, Allan Seamans, a Texas barbecue legend in his own right, helped develop a number of sauce and spice recipes.
With so much time and effort invested into the project, Mr. Krueger and Mr. Michael decided to wing it — literally — operating out of the Southern brunch house on the city’s Eastside.
The Shop Kitchen operates daily from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., while Wingman occupies the space from 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Wingman opened in April and offered to-go and delivery meals due to health orders that prevented on-site dining. Those restrictions have now been lifted, allowing patrons to enjoy the spacious patio adjacent to the kitchen.
“We were able to leverage everything here at The Shop, which puts out just awesome food that people love, and really come out with a great product with awesome quality,” Mr. Krueger explained.
“The conversation we had was, even if it fails we’re going to learn a lot, and then when everything is over (with the pandemic) we’ll be away further along and ready to open,” Mr. Michael said. “It was almost like a test run.”
This chicken has certainly hit the ground running and become an instant sensation.
“We make all of our sauces here in house. We spend a lot of time with the chicken. We brine it, we slow cook it and then we fry it,” Mr. Krueger explained. “The response has been great, reviews have been good.”
Perhaps the highest compliment Mr. Krueger received was from a Deckers co-worker, who lived in Buffalo, N.Y., but quickly came to love Wingman Rodeo.
Mr. Michael had also been exploring a dinner concept at The Shop Kitchen and had invested in building out its dining room. Once given the green light to resume in-house dining, Wingman Rodeo will look to offer a very unique experience.
“We’re really looking forward to having people come and get the real experience,” Mr. Krueger said. “Wings that are good quality.”
New beer taps have been installed in the dining area, perfect to watch a football game or kick back over wings and beer, he added.
Wingman currently offers nine flavors, including: Buffalo, Cali BBQ, Strawberry Fire, Thai Peanut, Bourbon Pineapple, Atomic Buffalo, Chipotle Lime Rub, Lemon Pepper Rub and Sichuan Tingly Rub.
The restaurant offers both classic and boneless wings in a variety of quantities, crispy chicken burritos and sandwiches and several vegetarian and salad options. Side dishes of tater tots, coleslaw, flavored cauliflower bides, brussels sprouts and Caesar salads are also on the menu. Wing orders come with a side of dipping sauce, including ranch, blue cheese and honey mustard.
“We’re trying to keep a really tight and focused menu, but really trying to get some trends between vegetarian and keto and that sort of thing,” Mr. Krueger said.
While the food product has been a success, Wingman also sticks out with its to-go bags.
The bags, featuring cowboy hats, horseshoes, a chicken, a cactus, peppers, and boots with spurs, among other items, are aimed at being “super eye catching” and a mobile billboard of sorts, Mr. Krueger explained.
“A lot of times we’re seeing a meld between brand and restaurant, and defining what a restaurant could be, especially when you’re trying to build a business digitally,” he said. “You want something that really pops, is colorful, translates well to video and Instagram. We worked with a designer.
“I’m from Texas and I really just like the wings. I wanted to create a little bit of a vibe around what Wingman is and Wingman Rodeo, and so we worked with a great designer to (develop a) concept how we wanted it to feel and we’ve sourced those bags and printed them. It’s definitely a way to market ourselves and have someone feel like they’re getting a premium product.”
The bags come with a message that reads, in part: “We take comfort knowing people like you are out there. People who crave a wing that’s crispy, juicy and tender. People who believe sauces and rubs should be house-made, not bought. You’re Wingman Rodeo’s kind of people. And Wingman Rodeo is your kind of wing.”
Mr. Kruegman said Wingman may expand out to Isla Vista near UCSB, or even open a new location down in L.A. in the next few months.
“We feel like we developed a concept that can really scale and we would love to be able to continue to grow,” Mr. Krueger said. “We’re obviously focusing on dialing this in and getting people here and eating on our patio and dining in when we can do that. But we’re looking kind of to move to the next spot.
“We’re hoping to continue to grow and invest in the business.”
When asked to describe the real Wingman experience, Mr. Krueger replied, “We’re really focused on quality. We make the best wing, certainly in Santa Barbara, but we think anywhere.”