Down-home Rio Grande Valley cooking is gaining statewide accolades for the Brownsville-based Wing Barn.
The growing regional restaurant chain was recently named one of the “Top 25 Best Places for Chicken Wings in Texas” by Big 7 Travel. The widely-read and well-sourced social media site offers recommendations on the best destinations, hotels and restaurants around the country and world for travelers to visit and enjoy.
The accolade comes at a time when Wing Barn and its owners Bobby Saenz and Daniel Pompa are making plans to expand. The two new restaurants in Weslaco and San Juan will open later this year. This will make for nine Wing Barns across the Valley.
“We’re super excited about the recognition,” said Saenz, the Wing Barn chief executive officer. “What we’re doing is right here in the RGV. It’s important to us that people realize we’re from here and not a big franchise that opened up here.”
Building a brand
Wing Barn had a modest start in 2010 with a single restaurant in Brownsville. It was a struggle to get the business established. Saenz had years of retail management experience and Pompa had a background in restaurants and is a culinary school graduate. From the first batch of wings Pompa cooked up to where they are today, the two partners have steadily moved across the Valley. They will soon be in every significant part of the regional market.
“We look to go into up-and-coming markets and locations,” said Saenz in reference to the Weslaco location in front of Lowe’s and the upcoming San Juan restaurant adjacent to the H-E-B Plus.
Pompa recently took a visitor through a tour of the Wing Barn location on Stuart Place Road/Expressway 77/83 in Harlingen. He spoke of the 21 dipping sauces he has created. The chef said he wants “a punch of flavor in every bite.” The sauces are made at a single location in Olmito. They are then transported across the Valley to Wing Barn locations.
In touch with the community
It’s attention to detail and knowing the Valley market that is central to what Wing Barn does, Saenz said. He referred to a new grilled corn appetizer that includes cheese and cilantro as fitting the tastes of the region.
“You’re not going to find that in any other wing joint in the Valley,” Saenz said. “We know what the culture likes here.”
The menu goes beyond its signature variety of wings. It also include salads, wraps, burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches. The diverse menu allows Wing Barn to appeal to a range of customers. It is especially well suited for sit-down family meals. The company looks to roll out a new online app as a nod to more mobile customers and a steady rise in takeout orders.
All of the successes have allowed Wing Barn to give back to the community. Saenz said his company of 180 employees donated over $200,000 to Valley nonprofits and charities in 2019.
“Giving back is a huge part of what we do,” he said.