A son’s wish will bring Wingstops to Mt. Airy, Roxborough and other locales

The story goes that about a year ago, longtime McDonald’s franchisee Richard Johnson was getting out of the burger business and looking for his next move.

Riding in the car one day with his son, Tristan, Johnson heard a report on the radio about the rapper Rick Ross buying a bunch of locations of the Wingstop chain in Miami and Memphis.

If the rapper can have a Wingstop, Tristan said, so should his dad.

Johnson, 52, a Mt. Airy native who now lives in Whitemarsh, has plans for eight Wingstop locations, the first of which he expects to open on Ridge Avenue in Roxborough sometime in July. The second will soon be under construction at 6700 Germantown Ave., in one of several properties under rehabilitation by Mt. Airy USA.

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Asked what led him to the Germantown Avenue site, Johnson didn’t hesitate: State Rep. Dwight Evans. The restaurateur said he first looked for a space in Cheltenham, near the Wal-Mart, but when he couldn’t settle on one there, Evans pointed him toward Germantown Avenue and connected him with Mt. Airy USA’s (MAUSA) Anuj Gupta instead.

“For a new tenant to be able to come in, whether it’s a restaurant or another type of business, we think it’s a great thing,” Gupta said, calling the building a cornerstone of MAUSA’s effort to continue moving business and activity down the Avenue. He praised Evans’ assistance, saying it’s a sign of the legislator’s commitment to the area, not just his own neighborhood.

The Mt. Airy location, a 1909 brick post office building, will be gutted to remove interior walls and fixtures from a former longtime tenant, before Johnson starts his work to create the Wingstop space.

The 5,000 square foot building will also have room for other tenants. Johnson will take up a 2,100-square-foot portion of the first floor. The work is part of a multi-unit, grant-funded program through which MAUSA is creating new retail and residential spaces near its Germantown Avenue headquarters.

The Wingstop stores have a pre-Jet Age aviation-themed interior, and Johnson said he’ll add to the decor in Mt. Airy with memorabilia from his own family – his father and uncle were Tuskegee Airmen.

“We’ve got some nice photos of family members, so we’re going to hang them around in here,” he said.

The fast casual chain was founded in 1994 and now has about 550 locations in 35 states, with a recent major push into the East Coast. The restaurants feature cooked-to-order wings, chicken strips and “glider” sandwiches, with fresh sides and never-frozen french fries, along with 12 proprietary sauces to choose from.

The stores, 60 seats in Mt. Airy and 52 in Roxborough, will have retail liquor licenses, allowing for bottled and draft beer sales and limited beer take-out, Johnson said.

“We’re much more focused on the food, though. The beer isn’t the focus on the place,” he said. “It’s really more of a restaurant atmosphere than just an in-and-out takeout.”

Right now the project is in the permits-and-approvals phase, and demolition of the interior should take about three weeks. After that, Johnson expects about a 60-day construction turnaround, making for a potential opening in late summer. The stores will each employ between 15 and 20 people.

Johnson also owns several Primo’s Hoagies franchises, though not the one located just next door to his new Roxborough Wingstop. Another Johnson-owned Wingstop is planned for a location near the Barnes Foundation.

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com.

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