By MARC LUTZ
Business Journal Editor
STOCKTON—To say Kristie Ehlers loves children could be an understatement. The Wing Zone franchise owner has known she was going to be a mom and to take care of kids long before motherhood ever happened for her.
Now the mother of three is helping kids in the area to achieve good habits through hard work and dedication with her restaurant’s Award of Excellence program.
“When Wing Zone presented the Award of Excellence, I thought, ‘that is such a great idea,’ because I know, as a working mom how hard it is to motivate your kids to do their homework — even in first grade — it’s so hard because they just want to play,” Ehlers said. “We went to different schools here in Stockton to put the word out, and most of them said, ‘sure!’”
The program is open to schools within the Stockton Unified and Lodi Unified school districts. Children who keep up steady attendance, stay on task in class and show a general dedication to their school work, are given the award, which is redeemable at the Wing Zone in Stockton for six boneless wings.
Ehlers said it is up to the discretion of the schools as to the criteria chosen for giving out the awards.
Stockton’s Wing Zone is the first on the West Coast, which Ehlers opened with her husband Werner Ehlers on Oct. 31, 2015. The couple had to convince the chain to let them open the location, since it would be so far removed from other locations. The closest being in the middle of Texas.
For Ehlers, a native Stocktonian, she couldn’t see opening the restaurant anywhere but here.
“People say, ‘why Stockton?’ Well, I was born here, my family has lived here over 60 years. It’s where I live,” Ehlers said. After having visited the Wing Zone headquarters in Georgia and tasting the food, Ehlers fell in love and knew she wanted to own a franchise.
Wing Zone was founded in 1991 by Matt Friedman and Adam Scott, who created the restaurant in their fraternity house at the University of Florida. The chain now has more than 100 locations in the U.S. and internationally.
Ehlers sees the Award of Excellence as a short-term way to reward behavior that can turn into long-term good habits. Seeing the child’s face light up when he or she comes into the restaurant to redeem their certificate, which is then mounted on a wall for all the patrons to see. On top of that, Ehlers will post pictures of the kids on the Stockton Wing Zone Facebook page, then tag the school.
Wing Zone currently works with about eight schools in the program, but Ehlers said the program is open to as many that want to participate.
“I love kids. I love anything that has to do with helping kids,” Ehlers said. “This is about … making a child feel good about themselves, and getting that recognition that they deserve.”
Schools interested in participating in the program can contact Ehlers via email at [email protected]