A new restaurant just touched down in Forest Park. Wingstop opened its doors at 1215 S. Harlem Ave. on March 15. This nationwide chain has over 40 locations in the Chicago area alone. It opened the one in Forest Park due to its proximity to the busy intersection of Harlem & Roosevelt. The eatery is decorated in a vintage aviation motif. In fact, one of the tables features the image of former frequent Forest Park visitor, Charles Lindbergh.

The general manager of Wingstop is Eric Gutierrez. Though he is only 26 years old, this is the second outlet he has managed. For Gutierrez, opening the new restaurant was a homecoming of sorts. 

“I lived in Forest Park a few years ago,” he recalled, “on Thomas Avenue.” He had to vacate the rental building, when it fell into foreclosure. Now he rents an apartment on Roosevelt, a short walk from the restaurant. 

As the name implies, Wingstop’s staple is chicken wings. They serve classic and boneless wings in 11 different flavors: from Cajun to Teriyaki. Gutierrez’s personal favorite is Mango Habanero, a collision of sweet and spicy. The wings come with a variety of side dishes, including potato salad and seasoned fries.

Like its main competitor, Buffalo Wild Wings, the restaurant promotes a sports bar atmosphere, with five big screen TVs mounted on the wall. Unlike BWW, the Forest Park location does not serve alcohol. “Beer and wings are a classic combination,” Gutierrez admitted, “but I don’t think we’ll be getting a liquor license.”

Business has been good without it. “It’s been non-stop all day long since we opened,” he said. “Everybody loves wings. They appeal to every ethnic group. And this is a comfortable setting for families.” 

So far, the restaurant is going through thousands of wings a day. They are made-to-order, deep fried and tossed in sauce. Gutierrez oversees a crew of 14, who are assigned to stations bearing names like Pilot and Bombardier. 

Wingstop is based in Dallas and got off the ground in 1994. When they were looking for a site in Forest Park, they found two vacant storefronts in the strip mall south of Roosevelt. 

“They put it together fairly quickly,” Gutierrez recalled. “In 3-4 months, they did a complete rebuild.” He likes the area. “It’s not as urban as Humboldt Park, where I grew up. It’s friendly, calm and peaceful.”

Gutierrez spread some of this friendliness by passing out free wings to neighboring business owners. Some of them became customers. “I feel like we’re helping them out, by creating foot traffic,” he noted. The timing of the opening was also fortunate, coinciding with March Madness. “Eating wings, while watching sports, has universal appeal,” Gutierrez said. 

His biggest day of the year, though, will be Super Bowl Sunday. “That’s national wings day,” Gutierrez said, “All crew members report to work. We can go through 400-500 wings in 15 minutes.” He admits he is “pretty passionate” about his job. “I put in a lot of hours and I’m nearby, in case they need me.” All in all, Wingstop has had a smooth takeoff. 

“People are grateful that we opened,” Gutierrez said, before getting up to help out at the counter. 

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.