I started with street food, then restaurants and launched the festival as a way of promoting the restaurants. I thought it would be a good way to channel press and customers to the restaurants. I’d also seen a version of a wing event become very popular in the US. The demand for Wing Fest meant the festival brand grew much faster than the restaurant brand. Festivals are also more project based. There is a beginning, middle and end. I realised this style of work and business suited me more than the day-to-day routine of having a restaurant.
Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
Be prepared for the amount of time being an employer and managing a team will have on your time. Don’t underestimate it.
What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your own)?
I obviously spend a huge amount of time eating in places that serve chicken wings. However, I can’t publicly state my favourite wings as I have to remain impartial due to the competition element of the festivals. Outside of chicken wings, it’s very hard to choose a favourite so I will choose the best meal I’ve had so far this year, and that was at BiBi in London's Mayfair.
What motivates you?
I really love Wing Fest, it’s a dream business. One of the main reasons I love it so much is seeing the success of the traders at Wing Fest. I get a huge buzz from seeing them celebrating on stage collecting their trophies and getting well deserved recognition for all their hard work. Many of our winners have gone from street food stalls to bricks and mortar, several even to multi-site locations and it’s so enjoyable to see their growth.
What keeps you up at night?
This is a long list. But mainly thinking about ticket sales and the rising cost of chicken wings.
Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the hospitality business?
When I had restaurants, Ashley Brown (the ex MD of Hache Burger before they were acquired by The Cabana Group) was a fantastic guiding influence. A great deal of the information he gave me has also translated into the festival business and other projects I’m involved in. I always refer to him as a ‘Hospitality Jedi’ as he has helped many restaurant brands behind the scenes on their way to riches. I also need to mention by business partner in Wing Fest, Dan Baxter, who I enjoy working with immensely. I have learnt a considerable amount through working with him and he has been vital in growing the business and how it works.
What time do you wake up?
Coffee or tea?
Tea, then coffee.
How often do you check your email?
How do you let off steam?
I am big fan of long, leisurely, rosé fuelled lunches.
Do you prefer a night on the tiles or a night on the sofa?
A night on the sofa after a long and leisurely, rosé fuelled lunch.
What’s your signature dish to cook at home?
In the colder months a little lie in, 12km run, brunch somewhere in Hackney, back on the sofa by 4pm for a night in front of the tv with a sprinkling of work on my laptop.
What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?
Eating a turtle in Vietnam. Yuck.
Favourite holiday destination?
What are you currently reading?
Jogging around Majorca by Gordon West.
What boxset are you currently watching?
Have a few on the go: Billions, Succession, Hit Monkey, and Peaky Blinders.
What was your dream job growing up?
To own a dive bar that served chicken wings (from the age of 14).
Best business decision?
Turning Wing Fest into a standalone full-time business and growing the brand.
Worst business decision?
Opening a second restaurant. I got the location wrong and the team wasn’t right.
What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
The team you build around you or are part of are crucial to success. Make sure you surround yourself with great people and there are no dead weights. It’s important that the team motivate each other and all feel a sense of responsibility to each other. You should work with people who have valuable skill sets and drive you to elevate the quality of your own work. There is nothing worse than having a handbrake on the team!
If you could change one thing about the restaurant industry today, what would it be?
Ridiculous rent expectations from London landlords without any consideration for the restaurant business model. Before we found our wonderful London Wing Fest home at the London Stadium (who are amazing), this also applied to event venues.
Thacker was born in Norwich and studied Modern Business at Nottingham Trent University. He launched his first business, a luxury travel website called The Colombia Travel Experts, in 2009, which he then left in 2013. That year he moved into hospitality with the launch of Randy's Wing Bar, before launching Wing Fest in 2014. Thacker stayed with Randy's until 2019, working on Wing Fest alongside it. Wing Fest now operates festivals across the UK including in London, Manchester, Bristol, Darby and Birmingham. For details on forthcoming Wing Fest events, click here.