Texas chicken-wing chain Wingstop takes flight in debut

By Reuters

Jun 13, 2015 05:51 AM EDT

Shares of Wingstop Inc (WING.O), a Dallas-based chicken wing restaurant chain, rose nearly 70 percent in their market debut on Friday, valuing the company at $914 million.

Wingstop, which operates over 750 "pre-jet" aviation-themed restaurants in the United States and six other countries, makes chicken wings in a dozen quirky flavors, ranging from the spiciest "atomic" to least-spicy teriyaki.

Its listing coincides with a revival in shares of newly public U.S. restaurants as low gas prices and a brighter job market encourage Americans to dine out.

The IPO raised $40.9 million for Wingstop and $69.4 million for selling stockholders, including former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, the face of the company and a former director.

Football and chicken wings have a long shared history.

About 1.25 billion wings were devoured during Super Bowl XLIX in February, according to the National Chicken Council's estimates.

Wingstop's shares were priced at $19 each, above the expected range of $16-$18.

Atlanta-based private equity firm Roark Capital retains a 66.9 percent stake after raising $44.7 million by selling about 2.4 million shares.

Wingstop plans to use its share of the proceeds to pay down debt and for a $3.3 million fee to end its management agreement with Roark Capital affiliate Roark Capital Management LLC.

The stock hit a high of $31.99 and was up 58 percent at $30 on Friday afternoon.

"Wingstop is no surprise," Josef Schuster, founder of Chicago-based financial services firm IPOX Schuster LLC said.

"We expect it to trade somewhat higher in the after market as well," he added, saying the stock was mirroring the recent behavior of other specialty restaurants.

Shares of chicken-and-biscuits chain Bojangles Inc (BOJA.O) have risen 36 percent since their debut last month, while New York-based burger chain Shake Shack Inc's (SHAK.N) stock has nearly quadrupled since its January listing.

Wingstop, which started in 1994 as a small buffalo-style chicken wing restaurant in Garland, Texas, was acquired in 2003 by Gemini Investors, which sold it to Roark in 2010.

The company has sold a little over 4 billion chicken wings since it was founded, Chief Executive Charlie Morrison said, adding that it was targeting a long-term annual unit growth target of 10 percent year-on-year.

Mississippi-born rapper Rick Ross, who is contracted to open 25 franchises, is a vocal Wingstop fan. The chain's 'lemon pepper wings' appear to have served as the muse behind several tracks on Ross's sixth studio album, 'Millennium'.

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