Since its formation in 1994, popular chicken wing franchise Wingstop Restaurant has found its way into the heart of hip-hop. First famously rhymed about in 2003 by Bay Area legend E-40 on his record “Anybody Can Get It,” rappers have increasingly name-dropped the eatery as its popularity has grown. Over the years, artists including The Game, PartyNextDoor, Tyler, The Creator, Logic and Soulja Boy have spit bars mentioning Wingstop but no one more than Miami hip-hop star Rick Ross, who not only raps about the chicken spot regularly but actually owns 25 Wingstop franchises.

As the brand’s popularity has risen, so has its profits. When Wingstop debuted on the stock market last June, shares were priced at $19 (beating the $16 to $18 pre-debut predictions) and rose as high as $31.99 that same day. That success can be partially attributed to Wingstop’s popularity in hip-hop but also to the hard work of the brand’s CMO, Flynn Dekker. The 46-year-old Monticello, Ind. native who joined the Wingstop team in early 2014, is also a hip-hop fan.

XXL recently caught up with Dekker to get an inside look on the power of chicken wings and Wingstop, the brand’s growing relationship with Rick Ross and hip-hop, and what’s better, boneless or bone-in-chicken wings.

XXL: So how did you end up working for Wingstop?

Flynn Dekker: I’ve been at Wingstop for two years now and I’ve been at multi-unit restaurant and retail my whole career. So I started in a restaurant, a lot of my early years were Blockbusters when that was still a thing. Kinkos, which turned into FedEx Office at one point, and then over the last few years I owned my own restaurant and right before this, I was with a company called Pizza Inn Holdings group where we started a new concept called Pie Five Pizza, which is a fast, causal pizza place that didn’t make it to New York yet because they have too much good pizza going on over there. But I think they are getting close to a hundred restaurants now. I left there to join this because Wingstop is the dream place to be in my opinion.

What is your day-to-day like?

My role as Chief Marketing Officer is hopefully to set the vision to where we want to be as a company and brand. So I try and stay at a level where I can think about the bigger ideas. There are a lot of things that I want to do to build a brand instead of sell chicken wings. I think you’ll sell chicken wings if you build a brand the right way and focus on the right things like charity and opportunity and the lifestyle that really surrounds both the brand and the guest that come into our restaurant everyday.

Can you take us through Wingstop’s history?

The company is 21 years old. It started in 1994 in Garland, Texas, which is just outside Dallas. It started out as a dinner-only, takeout chicken wing place. Then over the years they started to add some things to it. It really took off when the Dallas Cowboys used to go there and the quarterback at the time, Troy Aikman, used to treat the linemen to wings if he didn’t get sacked too much on Sunday. He would take them all out and reward them and they would eat wings. It started to catch on and more people found out about it. [Wingstop] expanded it to lunch hour and from there, we grew. We really hit the gas on growth the last few years. Last year we opened 133 restaurants… We’re in six other countries besides the U.S. as we speak today.

Rick Ross has been very public about his love for the brand and involvement with Wingstop, opening 25 franchises. How has it been working with him?

Rick is an awesome business man and great promoter. I work a lot with his sister Tawanda, she is the backbone of the organization. She's not only helping him run his empire, she’s really in the day-to-day in the Wingstop business as well and they are growing fast. They are passionate about it. Rick has been a great ambassador. He found the product on his own, decided he wanted to invest, brought his family into the business and they’ve done an amazing job. We get to spend some time with him from time to time and chop up some ideas and we’re always working on ways to co-promote the brand. He’s a self-promotion machine; we love the partnership. He’s not the only one. Uncle Luke, his wife Kristen, he has restaurants down in Florida. So we got a few other folks. Kris and Uncle Luke just opened up one [two] weekends ago.

I think music is just a good fit for our brand and hip-hop in general, and not just because of Rick Ross but because of where we grew out of. We didn’t start in the suburbs, we don’t compete with the Chipotle or the Panera Bread of the world; we do one thing and we do it very well and we start off inside the loop, sort of speak in the city and eventually work our way out as awareness grows. I think it’s just a fit with our audience and we want to build on that. What’s real and authentic is what interests the people who walk in our restaurant every day and that’s art ad that’s music and dance. That’s what we want to be a part of in a meaningful way.

Since Ross, have more artists approached Wingstop about investing?

There’s a couple more that we haven’t publicly talked about but we’ll wait for them to make the announcement themselves. We got a lot of interest from athletes and other folks in the hip-hop community. At the end of the day, it's still a business and we want to make sure this is the right fit for everybody so we don’t accept everybody who comes knocking on the door. Luckily, we got a line of people at the door and we got a pipeline of stores that is deep. We wouldn’t pick someone just based on their celebrity, but there's definitely a lot of interest there when it’s the right fit.

Why do you think rappers like Wingstop?

I think it goes back to where we came out of. I think there’s a truth and a honesty there. Like I said, we started inside the loop. We didn’t start inside the suburbs.

Is lemon pepper the most popular flavor for Wingstop? It’s the flavor Ross name-drops all the time.

Lemon pepper, Rick Ross hit on it early on. He’s sung the gospel of lemon pepper since day one. I think that’s what makes us different too. You go into any wing place and the number one flavor there is going to be their hot sauce, buffalo hot sauce. We got a great buffalo flavor but it’s our number two, lemon pepper is our number one and I think that’s part of what defines us, that we are different. We’re not the normal wing place. We really focus on flavor and differentiate ourselves that when, which you see more this year when we produce a couple this year, that are limited-time flavor events.

So how big of a hip-hop fan are you? What do you listen to?

I do, most of my stuff is old school but there are a few new folks that I listen to that I like a lot. I like the stuff that’s a little bit edgy or harder. So I really like Public Enemy, DMX is great, I’m looking forward to him getting back on track. Jay Z and Ice Cube in there, as well. Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole is good from a rhythm perspective. I really like Kanye’s new single with Kendrick Lamar. I wasn’t expecting to get back on the Kanye bandwagon but I dug it.

If you had to make a hip-hop playlist for Wingstop, what would be on there? Give me 10 songs.

Two songs from Fear of a Black Planet by Public Enemy but I’m not sure what two those would be but it could be any two off that album. Jay Z’s “Bounce With Me.” I would put on Kendrick Lamar’s “i” and “Poetic Justice.” J Dilla “Runnin,” [just] the instrumental version, DMX would be on there, “Ruff Ryders Anthem,” and of course you have to have Rick Ross’ “Devil Is a Lie” from Mastermind. [Lastly], how about J. Cole’s “Power Trip” and “Crooked Smile.”

Here’s the ultimate question, boneless wings or with bone?

Listen, we make boneless 'cause we have to. Bone ends where it’s at; the flavor is better, the dark meat, it’s good.

Flynn Dekker
Flynn Dekker, Courtesy of Wingstop

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