Enjoying a Wet Willie in Houston
As I took a drink of my multi-colored Superman frozen daiquiri from the Wet Willie’s booth at last week’s Franchise Expo South, I wondered why others weren’t also giving away booze, regardless of the company. The sugary, colorful and surprisingly potent concoction was the perfect break from the show, and a pleasant gateway for the conversation I had with the franchised company’s CEO, William Dickinson.
The Savannah, Georgia-based company has a total of 17 locations, 10 of which are owned and operated by the company. Its turf includes Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, New Jersey and Missouri.
Dickinson said Wet Willie’s are most successful in places with warmer climates, established party zones, areas with lenient open container laws, amusement parks, or casinos, where he said the restaurants don’t have to worry about shifting temperatures or sudden rainstorms.
A retired clinical psychologist, Dickinson looks the part—very professorial—and is a great conversationalist, as you’d expect. He told me this year’s Franchise Expo South in Houston was the company’s second time attending an expo, after a trial run in Ft. Lauderdale, and that they will be making the trek up to New York City in June.
“It might occur to you that we’re very interested in Texas—we’re here,” he said, expounding on the brand’s upcoming growth push. “And we’re looking at Houston and Austin and Galveston and Dallas and San Antonio.”
I wasn’t the only one enjoying a Wet Willie or two throughout the show. The chilly drinks were a hot topic at the exhibitor reception Friday night at the NRG Stadium, where I was told the Miami location is an extremely happening, amusingly rowdy destination—and that they sold daiquiris like they were going out of style.
Did I mention they were surprisingly boozy?
“They’re not fruity drinks,” Dickinson said. “They have a nice taste, but you’re drinking a combination of our two strongest drinks made with 190 [proof] grain alcohol.”
They took the convention center edge off, and the taste was much better than my last grain alcohol experience. I can see amusement-park-weary parents enjoying them as much as the newly legal spring break crowd. I won’t say which of those categories best describes me.
Although the brand has had interest from celebrities and people enamored with the drinks, he said both groups haven’t panned out very well as franchisees, and that Wet Willie’s is now focused on savvy businesspeople who recognize the benefits of strong sales and low labor costs—apparently the central pillars of the Wet Willie’s franchisee pitch.
I asked Dickinson how many he could drink before requiring a nap or snack, but he said overindulgence isn’t his game.
“I’m 69 now, so I really don’t need to be drinking like that, and I probably never was much of a drinker,” he said.
I’m looking forward to phase two of our chat, and recommend you keep your eyes peeled if you’re heading to the IFA show in New York. It’ll definitely take the edge off!