Brooklyn's "Entrepreneur of the Year" is All About the Community
Good food can mean great business. That’s what Colette Burnett, owner of Super Wings NY, has found out since launching her restaurant.
The former banking executive, who was recently named "Entrepreneur of the Year" in Brooklyn, NY, has gone from one store to owning two branches of her eatery. What makes SuperWings unique is that it serves up wings in 10 ten flavors including Pineapple Jerk, Ginger Buff, and Island BBQ-- all inspired by her native Trinidad & Tobago.
“It is our focus on customer service that keeps us alive in the largest of recessions; it is our hugest success to see a growing and loyal base of ‘Super Fans’ that have been spreading the news of our brand's commitment to excellence. We have an avid community of customers who are enthusiastic and ecstatic about our wings and are quick to endorse our efforts at every opportunity,” says Burnett. “We are also exceptionally proud of the diversity of our customer base and the crossover appeal our Caribbean flavors have enjoyed. It has allowed us to introduce so many of our island staples such as Oil Down; or saheena (known as Spinach Bites at Super Wings); or even Barefoot Rice to so many people who may never have experienced those wonderful flavor combinations before. Our customers are literally are like the United Nations; daily, we serve people of all ages and races at our stores and folks have visited us from almost every part of the world.”
Immigrants from the Caribbean have made great strides in the United States, especially in New York. In fact, Burnett is following in the steps of Lowell Hawthorne (who is originally from Jamaica) who created Golden Crust, which has grown into a multimillion-dollar franchise and packaged-goods business.
Burnett had grown Super Wings against major odds, including the recession. She has expanded to two locations—one in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the other in Brooklyn’s East Flatbush—with plans to open a third location. Burnett has even gained national recognition: she won the Food Network Thrown Down with Iron Chef Bobby Flay, and Super Wings was voted “Best Wings In Brooklyn" and placed #3 in the "Restaurant Sauce Off" creative spicy category at the 10th Annual National Buffalo Wing Festival in Buffalo, N.Y.
She even has bigger plans ahead. “Super Wings NY will be releasing a cookbook and expanding our restaurants in the West Indies with our first restaurant in my native country Trinidad & Tobago in 2013. Now that’s full circle,” says Burnett.
Burnett didn’t take a straight route to entrepreneurship. She has been a banking executive for more than two decades. But Burnett felt she wanted more. “I felt I had grown as much as I could in banking and having spent 21 years in that industry, I wanted to experience the entrepreneurial world and become a business owner who could have more control over assisting the economy's recovery by developing a new business that could create jobs in the very community I live in,” she explains.
So when she decided to go into her own business, she found a niche to fill. “Super Wings NY was inspired by what I perceived as a gap in the market for Caribbean cuisine that would showcase the array of fantastic flavors that I grew up with as a child in Trinidad & Tobago in the West Indies,” says Burnett. “Fact is, I love wings, but unfortunately for years I could only find the regular Buffalo wings or barbecue options readily available. After travelling all over the world trying different wings in countless establishments, and having discerned a very alive ‘wing culture’ that was creating a great demand for wings along the way, I felt that if we could embody the Caribbean islands’ flavors on wings, it would be a win both for our culture and for the culinary world.”
She had the idea, but she needed the funding. So she turned to sources she knew best. “My family and I funded the entire operation on our savings and the reinvestment of business profits,” says Burnett. As with any business striving through the current recession, funding for the start-up of our business or its subsequent growth has been impossible. As a result my family and I have had to bear a very heavy financial load in order to own and operate our restaurants, using solely our savings and profits reinvested to continue to grow.”
Burnett says she doesn’t regret striking out on her own. “I believe, wholeheartedly, in being authentic. From our ingredients, our staff…I enjoy watching how that translates to our customers and their smiles. Super Wings NY is a totally unique concept that uses the authentic processes employed in cooking Caribbean food such as marinating our meats for 24 hrs and using only the freshest ingredients and herbs and spices, coupled with exciting new ways of using the flavors of the islands like mangoes and tamarind, pineapple and even nutmeg to name a few. All of this goes into making the very best wings ever,” says Burnett. “Another reason for our success has been our 16 employees who were carefully chosen directly out of the communities we serve. Each Super Wings team member seeks to provide only the very best service and food we can produce, which has been the greatest blessing to our company.”