Diane Crowley

Wingin' It

   Diane Crowley is best known for her joie de vivre-her passion for having fun-which is why it's no surprise that she and her husband established one of the island's most family-friendly, vibrant restaurants.
   Although they had little or no experience in the restaurant business, Diane and her husband, Cecil, opened their first Wild Wing CafÈ on Pope Avenue in 1990, after moving here from Atlanta. Since then, this franchise, based around hot chicken wings and cold beer, has grown to 33 restaurants in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Texas, eleven of which are owned by the Crowleys. The other 22 restaurants are franchised, which is Cecil's specialty. Diane's specialty is coming up with the restaurant's advertising and promotions and the thirty-one sauce flavors, ranging from traditional buffalo to ginger, Cajun and Thai.
   Diane won an Emmy for hosting a cooking show in Atlanta where she also ran an advertising agency with her husband. When she and Cecil grew tired of fighting the traffic, they decided to escape the rat race and scale back somewhat. "That lasted about two years," Diane admitted with a giggle. She's going full throttle again, typically traveling to visit eight stores a week. Diane takes a personal interest in each restaurant as well as each employee. "I have to be there to see things with my own eyes," she said.
   Being a hands-on employer makes Diane stand out. She's extremely proud of the fact that, unlike most restaurants, Wild Wing CafÈ has retained some of its original employees. Coming from the corporate world, they had one main objective for their new business. "We were determined, no matter how big our business got, we would treat our employees as family," said Diane.
   Indeed, when one of Diane's servers died after giving birth, she set up a charity called Megan's Fund. Megan's Fund offers financial assistance to children who have lost their mother. Motherless children may receive money to help pay for special needs, such as orthodontics, fees and tuition for extracurricular classes, or perhaps money to buy a prom dress. Diane continues to find ways to give back. "As a business person, if you are doing well, it's your duty to give back," she said. But for Diane, giving back is not just a responsibility; it's a joy.
   For the past eight years, Wild Wing CafÈ has sponsored the Top Dog golf tournament, which raises money for the American Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). The business is also a big supporter of our local sports programs. Perhaps this is partly because, over the years, Diane has had the pleasure of watching many islander families grow up. "Some of our hostesses, servers and bartenders came in here with their families when they were only three or four years old," she said.
   The eternal optimist, Diane's rah-rah attitude stems from her belief that 90 percent of what happens, happens because of attitude. Even in tough times, when consumers are spending less, labor and food costs are rising, and profit margins are shrinking, she focuses on the positives. "I don't worry that [other] restaurants are going out of business. I think about how their customers can now come to be ours, and then," she added jokingly, "I wonder if I can get their best servers to come work for us."
   Being married to her business partner for over 25 years is one of Diane's proudest personal achievements. She also has had the same set of girlfriends for 40 years. "That's the stuff money can't buy," she said.
   Her number one policy remains making sure people are having a good time and there's plenty of good food nearby. "This way," she said, "you know they're going to come back."

Up Close

Family: husband, Cecil; stepdaughter, Chrystel; and three grandchildren Favorite flavors: Wild West Ranch, Gen Tso Guilty pleasure: chocolate martini Source of inspiration: her mother To do list includes: lose weight, exercise more and get organized First job: Floral assistant; paid $2.00/hour College team: Florida Gators (She's a Gator alum. journalism/advertising.) Pro team: Atlanta Falcons