A frequent customer at the DWC in his hometown of Troy, Nardone decided to investigate what it would take to open his own franchise. Photo by J. Adrian Wylie / awylie@comcast.net

Working as an engineer in his hometown of Troy, Steve Nardone was a frequent customer at its Detroit Wing Company (DWC) outlet. A self-described foodie who loves to cook, Nardone decided to investigate what it would take to open his own DWC franchise. 

In late March, Nardone and partner Dominic Buccellato opened their first DWC in the Uptown apartment-retail complex at Ann Arbor–Saline Rd. and Oak Valley Dr. They’re already planning their second, in a former Verizon store on Washtenaw, aiming for a summer opening, and have the rights to open a third Ann Arbor location sometime in the next three years.

Though new to Washtenaw County, DWC is one of the area’s fastest-growing food ventures. Since opening in Eastpointe in 2015, the company has grown to seventeen Michigan locations. It plans to add a dozen more in the state this year and will launch in Ohio in the next eighteen months.

DWC joins a growing area trend: food places and stores with a foothold elsewhere that tap into the Ann Arbor market. Recent arrivals include Luca Pastry, Ferne Boutique, Detroit Cookie Company, Bon Bon Bon, and Rocket Fizz, to name a few.

But in Ann Arbor, DWC faces a crowded wings market. Along with the venerable Buffalo Wild Wings on State near campus, national franchise Wingstop has a location on Washtenaw, and It’s Just Wings operates from a ghost kitchen in the Arborland Chili’s. Not to mention chef Jordan Balduf’s year-old Side Biscuit on Packard, and any number of restaurants and bars that offer wings as appetizers and entrées.

Still, Nardone has faith in his DWC lineup, which is carryout or delivery only. “I believe our product is superior to the ones in the area,” he says. One reason is variety.

Customers can order traditional wings or boneless ones, in quantities ranging from six pieces to 100. Chicken tenders start at three pieces, but if you’re planning a party, you can order as many as 100. Plant-based wings, called Pretendies, are available by the half-dozen and dozen. There are twenty choices of dipping sauces. 

Traditional wings are slightly more expensive than boneless: $13.91 for eight versus $13.07 for boneless. Pretendies top the price chart at $19.19.

Hearty sides include macaroni and cheese—which Nardone calls “phenomenal”—and DWC fries, which are topped with a choice of wings sauce and melted cheese. There is also poutine—the crossover Canadian classic of fries with gravy and cheese curds—and buffalo chicken dip, which is pulled chicken baked in a mild cheese sauce and served with tortilla chips.

Sides include coleslaw, potato salad, chili, and celery and carrot sticks. Dessert is a one-pound cheesecake, available in Oreo or vanilla, while sodas are by Faygo and Vernors. 

Nardone had hoped to open sooner. The build-out, which he originally expected to take six months, instead took a year. That meant he missed two of the year’s biggest wing-eating events: Super Bowl Sunday and the March Madness tournament.

But he’s ready for commencement season and is in the shop every day, slinging wings with his staff. Says Nardone: “I’m a team player kind of guy.” 

Detroit Wing Company, 3234 Ann Arbor–Saline Rd. (734) 263–1414. Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. noon–8 p.m. detroitwingco.com