Atomic Wings featured in Business Insider
DOMINICK REUTER Sept 7, 2020
Ever since Zak and Ray Omar were kids, they've loved fried chicken.
Even more than the nuggets, the brothers loved conjuring up unique recipes for sauces for dipping the crispy morsels.
What began as culinary experimentation in the back of their father's food truck has since transformed into a growing food portfolio that includes several Dunkin Donuts locations and their own brand, Atomic Wings, of which Zak is the CEO.
Business Insider spoke with Zak about the road he, his brother, and their late father, Mo, took to grow their business from a single chicken truck, to a multi-unit franchisee, to becoming franchisors in their own right.
Where it all began
When Mo Omar immigrated to the US from Afghanistan in 1980, he quickly set about building a business around fried chicken, which he served from a food truck outside the Chase Manhattan building in New York City's financial district.
"He took us to work when I was about 12, and [Ray] was 15, and we got to see what he did on daily basis and kind of see the hard work that he put in," Zak said. "It was really interesting to see the lines wrapped around the block, and how we would interact with everyone from the vice president of the bank to the cafeteria worker."
After the day's rush ended, Mo would make the long drive back to Queens while his sons would concoct new recipes to spice up their late lunch of left-over chicken nuggets.
They didn't realize it then, but several entrepreneurial seeds were planted during that time.
Mo reinvested the profits from the chicken business to build a warehouse and supply operation for other New York food vendors, which helped Zak go to college and a career in IT sales.
Meanwhile, Ray enlisted in the Special Forces where he served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, rose to the rank of captain, and became a civilian consultant to the Army.
Recapturing a missed opportunity
The Omars remained close throughout, and in 2010 an opportunity to become franchisees with Dunkin' Donuts presented itself.
Mo had actually passed on opening an early location in the 1990s, a decision he had been regretting as Dunkin's popularity surged. Here was a chance to make that up.
The three men gathered their savings and inked a five-location agreement, dividing the ownership proportionally to their contribution.
"My father said, 'as much as as much money as you can invest, that's how much of a partner you are,'" Zak recalled. "It wasn't something that he just handed out to us, but it was something that without him would not have been possible."
The Omars knew a lot about the food-service business already, but Zak said being a franchisee for a national brand came with several key advantages.
"They're the ones getting the name out in front of potential customers and providing you with the recipe manual that says this is how it's done," he said. "They've spent the time and the money and the resources to do that research and taste testing."
But just as they were hitting their stride, tragedy struck.
For Zak, it was leukemia, and for Mo, it was the brain cancer that would eventually claim his life.
A return to the original business
As Zak was finishing chemotherapy and radiation in 2015, he began to look for another opportunity to grow his franchising business and honor his father's legacy, but nothing seemed to click.
Then he had a conversation with Adam Lippin, the founder of a much-beloved chicken wing restaurant called Atomic Wings.
Zak loved the product and the brand and asked Lippin about opening a franchise. Lippin had another idea: Since he was ready to retire, why not sell the entire operation to Zak and Ray?
"I took over in 2016, and what I did immediately was I took what I learned from Dunkin'," Zak said. "When I came on board, it was kind of all scattered around and we've worked a lot on the back end for the first two years of our growth."
At the time, there were just two Atomic Wings locations, but the Omars' efforts have transformed that into 11 today, another 16 in the works, and a vision for 100 shops around the world in the next five years.
Even though his experience franchising with a national brand has helped, Zak says the more important keys to success were learned decades ago in that food truck on Wall Street: customer service and a focus on quality.
As a franchisor, Atomic Wings goes a lot farther than industry norms to keep costs down for its partners with a low royalty and flexible design requirements. But there's one thing that franchisees are expected to pay top-dollar for: fryers.
"That's our lifeline, that's our moneymaker, and that's just gonna help them out," Zak said. "You can't go and buy a cheap fryer and expect to get that quality out of it. You want to make sure that your food tastes great."