MANATEE -- On its 20th anniversary, Hurricane Grill & Wings opened a Bradenton location Monday and gave free wings for a year to the first 100 people who arrived.
General Manager Dennis Clarke said the 100 guests had to come in and have lunch to qualify for the contest. Each person who was awarded the free wings for a year is eligible for five individual wings every week, starting next week.
Clarke previously ran the Hurricane Grill & Wings Tampa location on Westshore Boulevard, now closed. Hurricane Grill & Wings was able to take advantage of a "rare opportunity" in Bradenton, he said, because Lee Roy Selmon's chose not to renew their lease at 6510 Cortez Road W. And it wasn't because the location of the restaurant was unsuccessful.
"I'm excited that it's the first one in this area," Clarke said. "Bradenton's an awesome city that has been starved of great wings." All Lee Roy Selmon's employees who wanted to stay employed at the restaurant were kept as staff for Hurricane Grill & Wings, which has hired about 70.
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Several employees passed out water to the long line in front of the restaurant on Monday morning before the doors opened at 11 a.m. Some customers arrived as early as 7:15 a.m. First in line was Felicia Foundas, who discovered the wing giveaway through Facebook. She said she loves wings and wants to see how the new competition stacks up to Bradenton's other wing restaurants.
"I've never been here before, but I want to see if they are better than Wings N Things," Foundas said.
Others in line were longtime fans of the wing chain or knew people working at the restaurant. Tom Berry said he frequents the Hurricane Grill & Wings Sarasota location about once a week and arrived at 8 a.m. at the Bradenton location to land fifth place in line for the contest. Hurricane Grill & Wing's quality keeps him coming back.
"I like the boneless wings best," Berry said.
Jesse Stanley, a junior at Manatee High School, said his sister works at the restaurant and because he's in the last week of school, he didn't mind missing a day to enter the running for free wings.
"We're just watching movies right now, anyway," Stanley said. He said his parents knew he was at Hurricane Grill & Wings instead of at school.
"I was planning to come last night, but no one was here, so I decided to come in the morning," Stanley said. He arrived at about 8 a.m. and snagged the fourth spot in line.
Ed Camarda, a Bradenton retiree, was third in line and said he's excited to see business coming to west Bradenton.
"I'm always excited for new restaurants," Camarda said. "It's about time something comes to this side of town."
According to John Metz, CEO of Hurricane AMT, the franchisor for Hurricane Grill & Wings, the Caribbean food and wing chain hopes to have more than 100 locations open by 2016. The Cortez Road location makes 70 Hurricane Grill & Wings locations, including 40 in Florida.
Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow her on Twitter@jayohday.