DALLAS — Nearly 10 years after venturing into the chicken-wing business, Pizza Hut, the nation's largest pizza chain, will try to see whether its chicken concept can fly solo.
Pizza Hut, which is owned by Louisville-based Yum Brands, quietly opened the doors in Denton, Texas, on Tuesday to its first stand-alone WingStreet restaurant. More than 3,600 WingStreets already are nested inside Pizza Hut locations. In Kentucky, Wingstreets are inside Pizza Huts in Danville, Georgetown, Richmond and Winchester.
The stand-alone pilot, a company-owned restaurant, will give the chain a chance to test the popularity of its wings and sauces in an increasingly crowded field.
The headquarters of Pizza Hut is less than 20 miles from the Richardson headquarters of Wingstop, the nation's second-largest wing-themed chain, with nearly 500 restaurants.
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"It's not a field that we're entering for the first time. We have been a pretty significant player for a long time," said Doug Terfehr, a Pizza Hut spokesman. "This is an opportunity for us to learn a lot more, focus a lot more, on what we offer in terms of our chicken option.
"It gives us the opportunity to interact with a customer who is choosing us solely for chicken."
The largest bird in the field is Buffalo Wild Wings, with $2 billion in 2011 U.S. sales and 817 restaurants, according to Technomic, a Chicago-based research firm. WingStreet sales are not broken out separately from Pizza Hut sales.
Wingstop, with $381.7 million in 2011 U.S. sales and 488 restaurants, was listed as No. 2.
Terfehr said the restaurant is nearly 1,600 square feet, will have 34 seats for dine-in customers and will employ about 20 workers. A dine-in Pizza Hut/WingStreet combo can measure 3,000 square feet.
The stand-alone Wingstreet will not offer delivery. Prices will match those of other Pizza Hut/WingStreet combo restaurants.
Sauces are the same but have adopted punchier names, such as Buffalo Bonfire (medium hot), Bee-B-Q (honey barbecue) and Tropical Typhoon (mango habanero).
Terfehr said there is no timetable for how long the stand-alone concept will be tested. He said no other stand-alones are set to open.