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Staff photo by Mike Pare / Visitors to Chattanooga's riverfront area walk past the future site of the Big Kahuna Wings restaurant. The location is across Aquarium Way from the Tennessee Aquarium.

FAST FACT

Big Kahuna Wings has two Knoxville locations, having opened its first site in 2014.

A Knoxville-based restaurant company aiming to grow outside its home market has picked Chattanooga over other major cities in Tennessee and the region for its first expansion.

Big Kahuna Wings plans to open across from the Tennessee Aquarium in September, said co-owner Doug Fleming.

"It's right downtown where a lot of the action is," said Fleming about the site on Aquarium Way that formerly held Rio Picante.

Like its name says, Big Kahuna Wings main focus is chicken wings, though it also sells burgers, wraps and salads.

Fleming said Big Kahuna offers dry rub wings and some 20 different sauces.

"Most places which offer a wet wing, you get one flavor and that's it," he said.

Fleming said plans are to spend more than $500,000 to open the new restaurant on the ground floor of the two-story location, which offers indoor seating and a patio. In the future, the company may take an option on the second level for events or where companies can cater meetings, he said.

"The focus is just getting the restaurant up and running and successful," said the eatery's co-owner.

Fleming is a partner with Nathan Wehage and Matt Beeler, who with his family originated the concept in the 1960s with a wings recipe.

Beelers' parents opened a small deli in Knoxville in 1982. While it offered a variety of items on the menu, it showcased the wings and seasonings, according to the company.

In 2014, the first Big Kahuna Wings opened as a family-friendly, sit-down restaurant. A second location opened about a year ago.

Robert Bowlby, operating manager for the grill and bar, said plans are to hire just under 50 people at the Chattanooga restaurant.

He, too, cited the location across from the aquarium.

"Given the location and exposure ... , it seemed like the ideal fit," said Bowlby.

Fleming said there's a lot of foot traffic in the area, both tourists and locals, and there are established businesses as well.

"We have a unique [offering] that attracts a good audience," he said about the restaurant that will offer alcohol, including 16 craft beers, in Chattanooga.

The riverfront area also has seen its share of restaurant closures in the past year or two, with the space taken by Big Kahuna having been vacant for many months. The Bluewater Grille, 405 Mid-East Bistro, Applebee's, and 212 Market have shut down in the area.

Plans are to continue expanding the chain, Fleming said, as the company is looking at north Atlanta or in Charlotte.

"We want to keep it in a close circumference," he said.

Fleming said franchising is a possibility later if it finds the right partner.

In Knoxville, Big Kahuna sponsors an event that draws 8,000 to 10,000 people annually where the proceeds goes to charity, he said.

"We may do that along the river in Chattanooga," said the restaurateur.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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