Nearly 25 years later, Dianne Crowley vividly remembers the day Wild Wing Cafe opened its doors to Hilton Head Islanders.
Its first day in business got off to a rocky start -- the restaurant almost immediately ran out of food and had just six salad bowls on hand for the 285 people who showed up for the lunch rush June 22, 1990, Crowley recounted with a chuckle Thursday.
"We ran out of every bit of food we had," she said. "We sent two trucks to Sam's Club in Savannah and bought everything we needed. We were just overwhelmed that first night, but the people were so nice."
The restaurant chain will celebrate its 25th anniversary Sunday at the Wild Wing Cafe on Pope Avenue, a stone's throw from where the company got its start. Today, Wild Wing Cafe has 35 locations across seven states.
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Crowley and her husband, Cecil, started Wild Wing Cafe soon after moving from Atlanta, where the couple worked as advertising executives. Crowley said the couple's intention was to retire near the beach, but they soon decided to open a restaurant.
A chicken-wing restaurant was the first and only choice, as Dianne's chicken wing flavors were always a popular item at parties they held in Atlanta.
After finding empty space in Coligny Plaza -- now Steamer Seafood -- the first Wild Wing Cafe opened with seven original flavors. On opening night, a dozen wings cost only $3.95, Crowley said.
Success for Wild Wing came quickly. The second location, in downtown Charleston, opened in February 1992. By 1996, needing room to expand -- and tiring of the afternoon rain showers that would cause customers dining outside to grab their wings and duck for cover -- the restaurant moved across Pope Avenue to a vacant TGI Fridays restaurant, where it has remained for the last 19 years.
Soon after the move, the Crowleys began to franchise their restaurant, opening the first franchise in Marietta, Ga.
The restaurant now offers 33 flavors of chicken wings, with some -- such as its Ragin' Cajun flavor -- brought in by customers of the original restaurant, Crowley said.
Crowley and her husband have taken a back seat to the business side of Wild Wing after guiding the company for 22 years. The couple sold a majority stake in the chain in 2012, but still own Wild Wing's Savannah location.
"Our plan was to open one little restaurant in Hilton Head and live a laid-back lifestyle, but laid-back doesn't work for us," Crowley said. "If it's not our personality, it's not our personality."
Although the Crowleys now split their time between Charleston and Hilton Head, the old Coligny Plaza restaurant is the one that remains the most prominent in their hearts.
On Sunday, the Crowleys will be at the Hilton Head Wild Wing to celebrate 25 years of memories.
Crowley still remembers the night the restaurant had a pajama party for Johnny Carson's last show, or the time a booth removed so Edwin McCain could perform was stolen. Every night at 10 p.m., the restaurant would play "White Wedding" by Billy Idol to tell the customers "party's on," Crowley said.
She also remembers fondly how the restaurant became a focal point for a tight-knit community. In addition to attracting a wide group of regulars and becoming a meeting place for the area's food and beverage employees, the restaurant employed "one child from every family on Hilton Head," Crowley joked.
"Over 25 years, our employees went from kiddos to having kiddos," she said. "It truly was a club or a family. I have extremely sentimental thoughts about the early days. It was the most fabulous experience."