“When I hit a lick I bought a Wingstop (20 of ’em) / I sprinkle lemon-pepper in that re-rock.” – Rick Ross, “Trap Boomin'”

When Atlanta rapper Gucci Mane released his 2012 mixtape, I’m Up, Maybach Music Group head honcho Rick Ross jumped on the track “Trap Boomin'” to boast about his taste for chicken wings and impressive business acumen. Not only does Rozay name-drop his preferred seasoning—lemon-pepper, natch—but he also brags about the number of Wingstop chicken wing locations (“20 of ’em!”) he reportedly owned at the time.

Anyone who has followed Ross’ ascent in hip-hop knows that the Gucci Mane guest spot wasn’t the first or last time the rapper has mentioned Wingstop. Similar references are everywhere in Rozay’s discography, not to mention his social-media channels. Unlike his more ambiguous schilling for Luc Belaire Rosé, Ross openly acknowledges his business stake in the chicken-wing chain. Even Wingstop corporate has spoken about the partnership, noting in a 2013 press release, “Ross has a multi-unit, multi-state development agreement with the growing 580-unit wing chain.” (According to Forbes, Ross owns nine locations across the country—a bit less than 20, but still a sizable share.)

But rappers tend to embellish, and just because Ross brags about his business ventures doesn’t mean they’re making him rich. Unlike Buffalo Wild Wings, Wingstop isn’t exactly a house-hold name, and some of his hip-hop contemporaries have had mixed success in the restaurant industry.

We decided it was time to take a deeper look at Ross’ Wingstop relationship and see if his boasts really hold water. Here’s everything you need to know about the Dallas-based chain and its biggest celebrity investor.

What the hell is Wingstop?

Wingstop is a chicken wings-focused chain restaurant that started in 1994 in Garland, TX. According to its website, it currently has more than 660 locations around the world, the majority of which are franchised.


How do franchisees buy in?

Got $600,000 to your name? Wingstop franchisees are expected to have a net worth of at least $400,000, plus another $200,000 in liquid assets in order to acquire a restaurant. There’s also an additional $30,000 fee attached to opening a Wingstop in the form of a franchise fee. Entrepreneur then estimates between $200,000 and $600,000 more in investment is required before the location’s ready to start hawking 10-pieces.

Compared to other popular chains, opening a Wingstop is relatively cheap. To get a KFC or a Taco Bell—both Yum! Brands properties—a franchisee must have a net worth of at least $1.5 million and liquid assets of $750,000. People looking to acquire a Wendy’s need an investment group with a net worth of at least $5 million (based upon the premise that you’ll open numerous locations) and $2 million in liquid assets.


How is the chain doing?

Based on estimates (the company is private and does not release figures), it’s actually performing fairly well:

  • When reports surfaced in October 2014 that the company was exploring a possible IPO, investors projected that the company could raise $100 million and be valued as high as $500 million.
  • Wingstop continues to roll out new locations, reportedly opening 138 in the first half of last year.
  • A 2011 survey that tracked loan failure rates among franchised restaurants found Wingstop had a relatively low 11.54% failure rate, compared to the 12.81% median (however, that’s still higher than KFC and BW3’s, which registered at 10.0% and 4.76%, respectively).

What does that mean for Rick Ross?

We don’t know for sure, but here are some estimated store averages that DJ Diallo, an owner of a Brooklyn Wingstop, gives Forbes in the publication’s profile of Ross:

Diallo says the average Wingstop does about $1.2 million in after-tax income per year. On margins of 15% or so, that leaves a little under $200,000 per franchise in annual profit.

Based on what we know about Wingstop franchises, Ross’ nine locations (assuming he hasn’t opened others since September 2014) pull in an estimated $10.8 million annually, with approximately $1.8 million in annual profits. Obviously, that’s not the figure that goes directly into Ricky’s pockets, even if he gives the impression he’s the ultimate Wingstop franchisee (“He says some locations he’s taken over have seen spikes of over 50% in monthly revenue,” according to the Forbes story).

Of course, given Ross’ influence and Wingstop’s clear willingness to leverage his name for publicity, it’s possible that he has a unique relationship with the brand. In the aforementioned Forbes article, author Zack O’Malley Greenburg notes that Ross saves money on marketing by using his own likeness to raise his restaurants’ profile and sales. However, we’d venture that this tit-for-tat is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the rapper’s atypical business terms, as the amount of schilling that Ross does seems disproportionate to what he probably takes in off his locations.


What does this all mean?

In short, both Ross and Wingstop are doing alright. In the case of MMG boss, he’s likely pocketing a decent return as both an owner and/or endorser. It’s probably not one-percenter dough, but it’s a piece that goes towards building the Rick Ross entrepreneurial empire. As for the company, a potential $500 million estimated valuation portends a bright future.

But it’s important to note where Wingstop stands in the grand scheme of today’s fast-casual dining. New-school chains like Shake Shack and Chipotle are currently dominating the genre, posting ground-breaking IPOs and profits. Both charge higher prices for their food, but they have won market share with an emphasis on fresher, more healthful ingredients and a customizable experience.

Wingstop doesn’t capture the zeitgeist of “improved” fast food in the same way. Case in point: If a regular Shake Shack or Chipotle customer can also be considered a potential Starbucks customer—willing to spend bigger bucks for a higher-priced product—then they probably aren’t Wingstop patrons, according to Geoff Hill of Roark Capital, the group that owns Wingstop. Here’s what he told Fast Casual:

Hill said several Wingstop locations were in high-end retail centers next to chains such as Starbucks; however, Wingstop customers were not a core demographic of the area.

“If I match myself against brands such as Starbucks, the Wingstop customer is maybe not a Starbucks customer. Or, maybe the affluency traffic is different,” he said. “If my customer is not around there, then I’m way overpaying in rent and hurting my overall cost of the business because I’m paying too much for it. But, if there’s a location four miles away that my core customers are all around, and build-out costs are the same, the cost of rent is going to be the big difference.”

While some investors see Wingstop’s potential to win in lower-income areas, it doesn’t have the sex appeal of a more new-school chain like Shake Shack. Sure, having Rick Ross own a handful of restaurants and rap about his involvement is cool, but it won’t win the hearts and minds of customers that have made Shake Shack and Chipotle part of their lifestyle.

And that’s before even addressing Wingstop’s biggest and only selling point: Whether or not the wings are any damn good. If you take Theophilius London’s word, your money’s better spent elsewhere.

Now the real question is whether or not Ross has a secret stake in the pear industry