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Wild Wing Cafe hopes to capitalize on hoops sponsorship

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John Daughtry - JOHN DAUGHTRY
Muhsin Muhammad

Wild Wing Cafe is lending its name to a Charlotte event that will bring in high school hoopsters from around the country. The former Carolina Panther who co-founded the chain’s holding company says he hopes the exposure will help propel the growing restaurant business to regional prominence.

Muhsin Muhammad, a managing director at Axum Capital Partners and former wide receiver, said the high-profile teams coming to town could bring national exposure to Wild Wing Cafe, in which Axum bought a controlling stake last year. The marketing blitz would come as the chain sets off on an ambitious growth plan for the next few years.

The Wild Wing Cafe High School Hoops Classic, to be held from Dec. 27-30 at Ardrey Kell High School, will bring together boys’ and girls’ teams from the Charlotte area and top-ranked teams from around the country. Teams confirmed for the event include Florida’s Montverde Academy, which USA Today ranks the best team in the nation.

The tournament is being put together by local organizer Jeff Hood, who’s also run previous incarnations of the event. Proceeds go to Hoodie’s House of Hope, a nonprofit that aims to help underserved young people with programs like peer mentorship, after-school and summer educational activities and substance abuse prevention.

The event had long been sponsored by Bojangles’, the Charlotte-based chicken-and-biscuits purveyor. Following such a well-known company in the sponsorship role hints at Muhammad’s aspirations for the Wild Wing name.

“I think we want to be known as an iconic restaurant brand,” Muhammad told the Observer on Wednesday.

Muhammad helped launch Axum in 2008, when he was still with the Panthers. He remembers heading straight from the practice field into business meetings.

The firm’s 2012 purchase of a controlling stake in Wild Wing, based in Mount Pleasant, S.C., marked its first – and so far, only – acquisition.

The company has opened three more stores since then, and now operates in a six-state span from Virginia to Texas. Muhammad said the chain’s on pace to open three to 10 more stores in 2014, working with existing franchisees and new restaurateurs interested in partnering with the company.

The chain has about 30 locations now, and hopes to get to 70 in the next four years, Muhammad said.

At the basketball tournament, Wild Wing Cafe will be serving up a special menu of food and drink. That will help get the restaurant chain’s name out in front of the teams and fans, most of whom come from the states Wild Wing operates in, Muhammad said.

“This is an opportunity for us to advance our brand awareness and also get involved,” he said. “We are very much a grass-roots type of company.”

Dunn: 704-358-5235; Twitter: @andrew_dunn
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