MANATEE -- Cincinnati's Buffalo Wings and Rings is not exactly like every other wing-happy restaurant with a sports theme.
Instead of college students coming in to slam a few beers with their rowdy friends while watching the big game, the restaurant aims to cater to families.
"We take care of customers in the next stage of life -- families with strollers," said Philip Schram, executive vice president of development of Buffalo Wings and Rings. "The husband now has a wife and a very young child, he's still interested in wings, still interested by sports and has to make sure the rest of the family has a good experience."
The company wants to expand that audience at its restaurants by aggressively adding locations from Or
lando to Tampa and from Tampa south to Naples as Buffalo Wings and Rings celebrates its 30th anniversary. That next location could be led by Brian Bourlier and his family who runs the North Port and Port Charlotte locations.
Bourlier once looked at buying the former Blockbuster building on 14th Street West but held off and is trying to find the right location, be it Brandon, Bradenton or Bonita Springs.
"We're always looking," Bourlier said. "We're always trying to keep our eyes and ears open."
The goal is for Bourlier to open a restaurant in the next two years, possibly with another franchise partner. Buffalo Wings and Rings is interested in gaining three or four different franchisees to help efforts in Florida, Schram said.
"We would like to accelerate that growth to get more density and market penetration," Schram said.
The restaurant was started in 1984 and was acquired in 2005 by Schram along with CEO Nader Masadeh and Haytham David. By that time, the chain was down to five stores. It now has about 50 U.S. restaurants with additional locations in the Middle East.
Retirement not in his future
As Buffalo Wings and Rings has grown in Southwest Florida, so has Bourlier's family.
Bourlier was readying himself for retirement in 2007 from Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Mich., when his oldest son David Bourlier questioned him about his post-retirement plans. Bourlier was approaching 54 and his son's work with drywall wasn't as busy as the recession approached.
"When you retire, you can't just sit back and vegetate or you'll die," Bourlier said.
After some research, the family decided to partner in a restaurant franchise, even though they didn't have any restaurant experience.
Buffalo Wings gave the family a tour of its five restaurants in the Cincinnati area during a get acquainted with the brand discovery period tied to guidance for training, financing and management. Afterward, the family was comfortable making a go of it. Bourlier's wife, Karen, has parents living in Sarasota County and a brother living in Bradenton, with aunts and uncles scattered throughout Southwest Florida.
David Bourlier joined Buffalo Wings and Rings, helping open new franchises across the country to help give him management experience to prepare for the 2009 North Port restaurant opening at 1081 West Price Blvd.
The youngest son, Derrick, move to Florida with the family and took a job with Publix, first working at the store on 75th Street and Manatee Avenue in Bradenton before transferring to North Port. He eventually transitioned to working full-time at the restaurant and part-time at Publix.
While training and working at the restaurant, middle son Darrell fell in love. He married Heather in April of this year. David also married a woman he met here, Jennifer, who helps manage the bar area and they both help with the Port Charlotte restaurant, 1020 El Jobean Road.
"We put our family into it. My wife and I, my three sons, two daughters-in-law, my 4½-year-old grandson," Bourlier said.
Restaurant has family feel
To help get away from the sports bar feel, the restaurant takes a few select approaches, Schram said. Instead of baskets and plastic forks, food is served on white China with metal utensils and 97 percent of the food is made fresh, the same day, he added.
While the restaurants are made for families, featuring an arcade adjoining a private room that can be used for parties, Bourlier has tried to strike a balance for those who want to carry on in the full liquor bar by building a closed-off 21-and-up bar area to keep the noise down for the rest of the restaurant.
"I think one of the things we've tried to do is make it more of a family sports restaurant rather than a sports bar," Bourlier said.
The birthday party room has also been used for wedding parties and fantasy football drafts, Bourlier added.
The restaurants cost about $1 million of total investment and includes a financing option to help bridge for additional locations, Schram said. Buildings are typically 4,500- to 6,000-square-feet and can either be standalone or as end caps in shopping centers.
Schram said he's looking for people who can work in a franchise system and corporate structure, have good hospitality skills and has a passion for the brand, store and food.
The Bourliers hope they have pulled all of that together. Maybe then David and Karen Bourlier can enjoy semi-retirement.
"Now the kids can take a little more responsibility and we can have a little bit more time together," Bourlier said.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.