The Start of a College School Year Means Big Business for Arizona-Based Fat Tuesday Franchisee Chad

Wilford has seen great success among the college crowds in Tempe and Glendale.

With its New Orleans vibes and laid-back atmosphere, not to mention its impressive variety of frozen daiquiris, Fat Tuesday is the epitome of fun. The atmosphere in a Fat Tuesday restaurant is friendly and colorful, ensuring a good time for anyone who enters. Forget about a dress code: Fat Tuesday is proud of creating a casual space in which party-goers can feel welcome, whether they’re wearing flip flops or high heels.

For those reasons, it makes perfect sense that the lifestyle brand and Mardi Gras-inspired concept would enjoy the business of a very targeted demographic: college students.

Enter Fat Tuesday franchisee Chad Wilford, who owns and operates two Arizona locations just outside of Phoenix. One is located to the east of Phoenix in downtown Tempe. That location has been open since 1990 and Wilford purchased it in 2001. He opened his second location in Glendale, which is just west of Phoenix, on June 15, 2018.

The Tempe Fat Tuesday is located on Mill Avenue, a major hub for college-age activity. Wilford noted that his Tempe Fat Tuesday, which is both a bar and a nightclub, is “basically surrounded by Arizona State University,” meaning that much of that location’s business comes from the Sun Devils.

As for the Glendale Fat Tuesday, that community hotspot is located right by the University of Phoenix, whose football stadium is less than half a mile away. Arizona State University’s West Campus is also in the general vicinity and Grand Canyon University is also not too far away.

“Having the stadium right up the street brings in a lot of business in the fall, as does our proximity to the basketball stadium right up the road,” Wilford said.

Wilford’s Fat Tuesday locations definitely take advantage of the business opportunities to be found at the beginning of a college school year.

“A lot of the younger, college-age people are our target demographic,” Wilford said. “A lot of them are transient residents from out of state, so they leave on their summer break, then come back for the school year. Just having them in town is big business. When school comes back, it’s definitely good.”

In order to prepare for the upcoming college rush, Wilford does some preemptive hiring and training to boost staffing levels. He typically has between 30 to 45 employees on staff between the two stores. Those numbers are closer to 45 to 50 during peak times.

That said, Wilford’s locations are primed for maximum fun year-round, as they both offer full kitchens and restaurants with DJs every night and each Fat Tuesday is open until 2 a.m. Wilford makes sure his team is aware of major events happening in the area, from sports events to homecomings to graduations and more, and plans accordingly. Proximity to colleges means big business opportunities, and Wilford and his team work hard to make sure they don’t miss them.

“We review all of the events scheduled to happen on and around campuses and plan our own events that will attract college students to our bar,” Wilford said. “The students love it.”

There are also certain standing parties every year.

“We expand the store and take over an outdoor area and do a New Year’s Eve party and a huge Mardi Gras party every year that really gets a good following from college students,” Wilford said.

The Tempe Fat Tuesday’s longevity speaks to its positive relationship with the community.

“I feel like we’ve been really well-received by Arizona State University and it’s been a profitable location for the past 29 years,” Wilford said.

Part of what sets Fat Tuesday apart from other franchise opportunities, Wilford said, is its focus on quality drinks and its relatively easy business model. In addition to the variety and quality of daiquiris, the lifestyle brand offers a bestselling retail line of brightly-colored products, including tumblers, T-shirts and even drink mixes for home use. Fat Tuesday is even beta testing a BluTooth-compatible beverage vessel with an LED screen that allows users to change the display messages.

“It’s a streamlined concept—our franchisees can choose the unit size for their market, but it’s not one-size-fits all—and the drinks are world-famous and unique to the bar industry,” Wilford said. “There are not a lot of competitive drinks out there. There are a few other concepts that offer daiquiris but the drinks are not as good. I like that we’re the leader in the frozen drink world.”

Wilford is thrilled to operate his Fat Tuesday franchises where he does.

“I really enjoy being in a college area and I feel it’s made it easy to market and maintain the concept,” he said. “The drinks are geared towards the college-age demographic.”

Cristina Merrill

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