Having Words With: Sally Smith, Chief Executive, Buffalo Wild Wings


One year has made a huge difference in Buffalo Wild Wings’ cost structure, but chief executive Sally Smith remains focused on managing the 837-unit chain not only through the high commodity inflation of 2012 but also over the long term as a high-growth company.

A 4.4-percent increase compared with a year earlier in Buffalo Wild Wings’ food costs shrunk the brand’s restaurant-level margins by 3.4 percent in the June 24-ended second quarter. Yet the chain still managed strong gains in same-store sales and net income, and Smith hopes to maintain that momentum in 2012 and beyond with several key initiatives.

Later this year Buffalo Wild Wings will debut a new prototype in Cincinnati and San Diego while remodeling several restaurants to include new features like upgraded kitchens and audio-visual packages. By year end the chain hopes to complete testing of a new menu pricing system to fight commodity inflation, in which it will sell wings not by a set number per order but through qualitative amounts like “single” and “double” orders.

An acquisition of another growth brand also is possible, although there is still plenty of room to develop Buffalo Wild Wings and its people, Smith said.

HOMETOWN: Grand Forks, N.D.
EDUCATION: bachelor of business administration, accounting, University of North Dakota

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: growing Buffalo Wild Wings from 30 locations in 1994 to 837 today, serving as chairwoman of the National Restaurant Association, recognition with several industry awards, “working with an absolutely fabulous team of people”

PERSONAL: divorced, two children
HOBBIES: reading, traveling, spending time with family, cooking, golf

Why not accelerate the rollout of your new unit prototype to take advantage of more sporting events?

After you build the first location, you see how it works and feels, then you do cost engineering. You may change some decisions, like the materials you use, and then you can start negotiating buying power. Once we can take a look at Cincinnati, most of our development for 2013 would have the new look. Those locations under construction for November and December won’t have everything, but the new kitchens will have those improvements because they don’t affect what the guest sees.

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