Up, up and... Wild Wing takes off, again

The rumors are true. After a cold and quiet three-month slumber, the Wild Wing Café is gearing up for a second flight– this time with two new pilots in the cockpit.

As soon as the word broke last Friday­ thanks in part to a radio commercial advertising an upcoming Wild Wing job fair– Dish zipped over to the old train station to get the scoop.

We found new owners/managers Kevin Kirby and Chad Ragland upstairs, putting the finishing touches on new railings. How did they get here? Ragland's story makes it sound like fate.

"I was already a big fan of the [flagship] Wild Wing Café in Hilton Head," says the former marketing manager at Clear Channel Radio, "so that when I walked into this place for the first time, back in February of 2001, I knew right away that I wanted to own it."

One man's misfortune is another's gain. The moment Ragland learned that the restaurant of his dreams was for sale, he got busy finding a perfect partner. "It was clear from the beginning that Kirby would be a major asset to this business," Ragland tells Dish.

A former firefighter, Kirby has been the general manager at local bars/eateries such as Sweetbones and BW3. As straight-faced as a cop, but with an easy smile once you get him going, Kirby seems like an ideal boss.

He's really serious about the letter C. "I always follow the three C's when running a restaurant: cleanliness, customer service, and consistency," he says. Kirby, who adds that he has the most fun teaching employees, is obviously passionate about the restaurant biz.

Though he doesn't look a day over 45, this Charlottesville native remembers riding his bike down West Main back when Sears, Roebuck & Co. was around. He also recalls paying 10 cents to see a movie at the Paramount. Kirby and Ragland are hoping to bring some of that '50s, family-friendly feeling back to the Wild Wing.

"We want to tone down the nightclub image and make this a restaurant where Mom and Dad can feel safe bringing the kids," says Kirby. "Since this is a locally owned business, we really want it to be a part of the community."

They'll be putting in video games, dart boards, six more TVs, an interactive National Trivia Network system, and introducing special nights for kids and teens.

"There's really no place for teens to hang out in this town," Kirby remarks.

As for the roof terrace, which enjoys awesome views of Monticello, two rumbling train lines, and the sprouting Walker Square apartments under development by Coran Capshaw, Kirby and Ragland plan to open for lunch as well as dinner and late-night. Why not catch some rays while you're up there?

"We're thinking of getting some lounge chairs and maybe a mist machine to keep things cool," Kirby says. There's also talk of creating more of a Tiki bar atmosphere– thatched umbrellas, steel drums, and fireproof torchieres.

As for music, the new owners say they will favor DJs and only an occasional local band. They also look forward to working– not competing, they insist– with places like the Starr Hill Restaurant and Brewery, which they see as another key player in the evolving West Main entertainment scene.

Was it hard to convince the franchise group to give Charlottesville another chance? "Not at all," Ragland assures us. "They've always been confident in Charlottesville as an ideal Wild Wing location."

Ragland and Kirby are currently undergoing a two-week intensive corporate training session at the Hilton Head restaurant. When they return to Charlottesville, they should know everything there is to know about running a tip-top wingery-­ from making the sauce to, well, keeping the books. In case they forget a spice or two, the corporate team will be on site for the entire first month of operation to make sure everything runs smoothly. Plans are to open May 5.

Let's hope this time around the only turbulence at the Wild Wing Café comes from a passing train.