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Why ICV Partners are Optimistic About the Future of Buffalo Wild Wings

By Raj Prashad

With more than 80 sports bars throughout the United States, ICV Partners are the largest franchise group in the Buffalo Wild Wings system. ICV developed an interest in America’s largest sports bar for a number of years. But it wasn’t until October 2019, during a strategic overhaul of the brand, that the investment firm chose to invest in Buffalo Wild Wings.

“When Roark came along with Paul Brown, we felt confident in the track record of both parties that they were going to make the changes we thought could be value-enhancing for the brand. They didn’t waste time building a very strong management team with Lyle Tick as president, John Bowie as COO and real expertise and perspective right off the bat,” said Ira Moreland, Managing Director at ICV Partners. “Then, they brought in Jamie Carawan as a head of culinary and you could see early on the changes that his team was making to the menu was done in a very thoughtful way. Even though at its core, Buffalo Wild Wings is a sports bar known for wings, we knew that offering good food around the wings was going to be key to the brand’s success.”

ICV first invested in the Buffalo Wild Wings franchise group JK&T Wings shortly after Buffalo Wild Wings unveiled its mouthwatering All-American CheeseburgerHand-Breaded Chicken Platform, the fan-favorite return of Wing Tuesdays and an innovative new restaurant design. It was those fundamental changes and the brand’s direction — returning as The Great American Sports Bar — that encouraged ICV to invest even further only a few short months later in February 2020. And it’s the strategic partnerships and growth opportunities that have ICV optimistic about the future of Buffalo Wild Wings.

“In spite of this incredible period of time in the middle of a pandemic, this brand has shown resiliency. It’s a testament to management at the corporate level, menu rationalization, optimization of operations and how we repositioned the business for takeout and delivery. Every nuance and detail was contemplated and thought through. There was a real plan of execution, but at the same time Buffalo Wild Wings listened to our experiences as a franchisee and allowed us to provide feedback to the process,” Moreland said.

“The opportunities for Buffalo Wild Wings are so substantial because we’ve proven, even without sports, that people like our food quality, the feel of our sports bars and we’re so encouraged by what the future holds. Our partnership with MGM is a huge opportunity to connect live sports and gaming. And we see real opportunities in the markets where we have a major presence to bring the new GO format.”

For ICV, that growth will continue thanks to the operational expertise of JK&T CEO Kent Ward and president Brian Carmody.

“We have very experienced partners in Kent and Brian, who we partnered with at JK&T. The collaborative nature of the relationship with Buffalo Wild Wings as a franchisor has been very refreshing. There is collaboration and we appreciate the pragmatic and rational approach taken by (Buffalo Wild Wings president) Lyle Tick and his management team,” Moreland said.

“We’re looking to grow from our nucleus of restaurants in Michigan and our sports bars in Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Louisiana. Michigan is the cornerstone of our growth and we’re going to look to expand from there geographically and strategically in the way we build our stores. We do think that there’s great operating leverage when you can have scale and stores in close proximity to one another. So we could really be focused in a primary geography of the Upper Midwest.”

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