Shannon Wynne finds his own path

A. Lee Graham

Shannon Wynne has no secret to success, no playbook for profit. In fact, the restaurateur whose drink-and-dine empire generated $70 million in sales last year flies by the seat of his pants. “I didn’t know what I was doing,” said Wynne, 62, sharing his career highs and lows at a March 18 Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce luncheon. The upscale City Club dining room is worlds away from the ‘80s party scene that fueled Wynne’s ambitions while threatening to sabotage those plans. “I drank and did drugs. How many people in here drank and did drugs?” asked Wynne, drawing some muted laughter in the downtown venue.

Yet Wynne managed to find a focus and build a portfolio that would be the envy of many entrepreneurs. From Flying Saucer Drought Emporium, 8.0 Restaurant and Bar, Angeluna, Rodeo Goat, Flying Fish and Bird Café among his past and present Fort Worth ventures, to Nostromo, Rocco Oyster Bar and Tango, Meddlesome Moth and 15 other Flying Saucer locations in Dallas and elsewhere, Wynne built his fortune almost by accident, to hear him tell it. “I’ve never had a business class before; I’m just basically winging it.”

The youngest of four children born to land developer Angus Wynne Jr., who developed Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, Wynne never struggled for money. And his uncle Bedford Wynne helped found the Dallas Cowboys. “I was never required to have a job. I thought everybody had a large farm to go to on the weekend,” Wynne said. With no game plan, Wynne stumbled into a career when the Stoneleigh P in Dallas burned down, leaving him and his friends without their favorite watering hole. So they cobbled together their resources, opened the 8.0 bar in Dallas and eventually Neemo, The Rio Room, Tango and Nostromo, among others. But the party ended with the mid-‘80s savings and loan scandal that shuttered Wynne’s banks and left him owing money to Resolution Trust Corp. He eventually repaid everything and celebrated what would be the first of three marriages. “I got married in a ‘oops, we’re gonna have a baby’ kind of way and was predictably divorced a year later,” Wynne said. Left little money by his parents, Wynne was determined to succeed. He quit drinking in 1988 before Fort Worth beckoned. He was asked to open an 8.0 in Cowtown by Bill Boecker, president and CEO of Fine Line Diversified Development, which helped bring new tenants to Sundance Square.

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After continued prodding, Wynne finally relented and opened a downtown Fort Worth version of the 8.0 Restaurant and Bar in 1994. When the project budget exceeded $200,000, Wynne panicked. “I was sweating bullets,” said Wynne over his spending more money than anticipated in refurbishing the building to house 8.0. “Finally a guy I know said, ‘Shannon, $200,000 is about six hours’ interest for Ed [Bass, Sundance Square developer] alone. Don’t sweat it; you’re OK.’” On the heels of 8.0 came the first Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, offering 200 beers in the historic Land Title Building in downtown Fort Worth. Without conducting market research, Wynne soon opened more Flying Saucer locations in other cities. “The truth is I was scared of going broke again,” said Wynne, But he was determined to avoid the F word, as in franchise. “Never franchise. For me, franchising is the crack cocaine of expansion,” said Wynne, gazing around the dining room. “I’m sorry to all you people who franchise.” Finding fortune in Fort Worth, Wynne soon added Flying Fish, a casual seafood restaurant at Montgomery Street and Interstate 30, and most recently, Bird Café, which opened in December in Flying Saucer’s original location in the Land Title Building at Fourth and Commerce streets.

So far, folks are flocking to the eatery. Success has come despite – or perhaps because of – Wynne’s self-deprecation and thirst to succeed, to say nothing of some time-tested business practices. All investors receive earnings every four weeks. “And I sign all 750 checks personally,” Wynne emphasized. He also staffs each store with a general manager and three assistant managers, with management required to visit the corporate office in Dallas every three months. Wynne is president of his three corporate entities, 8.0 Management, Fish Management and Moth Management. “I tell all assistant managers that what you’re doing here is getting your MBA. If you can [work as a] general manager in our stores, you can run anything,” Wynne said.

Offers to buy his businesses have met with unequivocal nos. “I’ve been offered many times to sell out, but what would I do then? I do not plan to retire. I have zero exit strategy.” Asked what he would choose for his last meal, he recalled memories of learning to grow and pick okra as a boy. “It would be black-eyed peas, okra and a real crispy, unhealthy pork chop.”