They came from two different walks of life – the cook and retail store manager – and in a Brownsville kitchen during an Easter break, they mapped out the beginnings of a business plan.
It was 2010 when Bobby Saenz, with years of retailing management experience, approached Daniel Pompa, a graduate of a culinary school, and made a pitch.
“I had a vision of a restaurant – burgers, wings, country atmosphere and wood tables,” Saenz said.
Pompa, who is a first cousin of Saenz’s wife, offered to cook up a batch of wings. The two men met the next day. After tasting Pompa’s creation, Saenz knew he was in. A partnership was born, which today can be seen when walking into one of seven Wing Barn restaurants across the Rio Grande Valley.
The flagship restaurant was in Brownsville on Boca Chica Boulevard, which was soon joined by a second restaurant in Olmito along Expressway 83 and another Brownsville location. From there, the Wing Barns spread out across the Valley – two in Harlingen, one in McAllen on North 10th Street and a new restaurant recently opened in Edinburg in the busy Trenton Road/expressway corridor.
One of their Harlingen locations is also new, having recently opened at Venture X near the intersection of Stuart Place Road and the expressway. The two partners recently reflected on their successes at the new Harlingen Wing Barn, looking back at their modest beginnings.
“We went from not being sure if we’re going to make it to having a payroll of 160 employees,” said Saenz, a Laredo native who originally came to the Valley to manage Mervyn’s stores. “And it’s not like we have a corporate office. We’re it.”
The hometown entrepreneurial spirit is how the two men crafted their business. Pompa works the magic in the kitchen.
“It’s all about the sauces,” he said. “I want a punch of flavor in every bite.”
Pompa has created 18 varieties of tasty and memorable sauces to dip his signature wings. There’s Dang Good BBQ, Tangy Sweet Sriracha, Tongue Twister, the Cajun Rub and the Mango Habanero.
“You grow and learn the customers, what they like,” said Pompa, a Brownsville native. “Some of my best sauces were inspired by customers.”
Pompa’s menu also includes a variety of salads, wraps, burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches of many varieties to go with the array of signature wings and sauces. Saenz and Pompa could have gone the franchise route, but they have done it their way, following their own plan.
“It’s about building your own brand, tasting and creating your own food and dishes, and feeling out your environment,” Saenz said. “And it’s about making your own products, like our sauces, and not getting a bottle from XYZ place.”
Their business, while still less than 10 years old, has reached a certain level of maturity. The partners are now focused on good training, improving the management skills of their supervisors and developing good people skills of their staff. These have always been staples of their business, but the growth of Wing Barns across the Valley has made these attributes even more important.
Giving back to their community is another important company value. Wing Barns are heavily involved in local fundraisers and donate about $130,000 back to their community via donations to nonprofits and other worthy causes.
“We’re just not any place,” Saenz said. “We’re from here and we took a little idea and made it into something big.”