Corey McCoy, CEO of KOK Wings & Things, joins Discover Lafayette to discuss his unexpected journey into success as a restaurant entrepreneur. Growing up in a military family, he lived all over the country before moving to Lafayette to attend UL and become closer with his father. Corey served in the National Guard for six years while in school, with a top secret clearance as he worked as an Intelligence Imagery Analyst.
KOK Wings & Things was founded in 2016, when Corey, Avery Bell, Tre’Jan Vinson and Jared Johnson were Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc. fraternity brothers at UL – Lafayette and living together on a shoestring while attending college.
The foursome would cook chicken wings and sauces for friends, beginning with the traditional wing recipe Corey’s dad provided them. They enjoyed hosting social events at their home to raise money for their fraternity. In order to pay for the cost of the food and supplies, they started charging for their wings. Word spread about the delicious wings and the “Kitchen on Klinton” thus began out of their home kitchen on Clinton Street.
And things went smoothly until one day, the local police came knocking on their door, informing them that it wasn’t legal to operate a commercial kitchen out of their home. They realized it was time to ‘change up’ their operations.
KOK began with an initial investment of $250 chipped in by the the partners. As Corey says, “It was everything we had!” In the beginning, the young men would put fryers in the back of a U-Haul as they went looking for customers. In time, they were ready for a food truck. Avery’s dad offered to help build a food truck on a flatbed trailer, which they found on Craig’s List. KOK would park for a few months at a time around Lafayette as they built up a dependable clientele for their wings and sauces.
As KOK became more professional, their goals for growth did also. Once they saw that they had a viable business model, they worked to scale the operations From the beginning, the four young men divided up the tasks of running the business. Corey became the CEO (even when they were still cooking in the back yard) and was in charge of organizing the overall operations of KOK. Avery was in charge of ordering food and supplies, Jared was the Chief Financial Officer, and Tre’Jan was in charge of marketing. It gave them an organized method to focus on growth. Corey credits Heidi Melancon of the Small Business Development Center for helping KOK get their first loan, get free consultations, and get their business bearing. He also credits LEDA and the UL Business school for its help for which he will always be grateful.
KOK didn’t charge sales taxes for the first two years. This turned around when Adam Curry, a CPA with Darnall, Sikes & Frederick, ordered a meal and realized that no sales tax was collected. He helped the partners get their tax and financial records in order and get their business model organized for a sustainable business model.
The Lafayette location is in the former Gallagher’s Restaurant, which property is still owned by Nidal Baldeisi. He traded free rent for a few months in exchange for the KOK partners’ working to renovate the building as they built their profits. They rented fork lifts from Lowes, got family and friends to help, and they were off in pursuit of a successful brick and mortar business.
Corey taught 8th grade history at Acadian Middle when he graduated from UL in 2016 as they built up their business. He worked until KOK turned profitable in order to ensure that he could make a paycheck. The first two years, none of the men took any paycheck from the business.
With a solid track record of growth, KOK Wings now has locations in Lafayette, New Iberia and Baton Rouge. Corey and his partners have grown their company from the grassroots level into a multi-million-dollar company with over 50 employees.
KOK Wings & Things sells much more than wings and sauces. Fried fish and small fish sliders are popular items on the menu, along with fried shrimp, and definitely worth checking out. There are 16 different sauces you can load your food with. “There are a thousand ways to eat KOK,” Corey says. KOK is also considering offering healthier options as they grow their menu.
COVID presented challenges to KOK, particularly with the skyrocketing price of chicken in 2020. The partners also pivoted by opening up a drive through during COVID, which they found much easier to accommodate than many traditional restaurants due to their experience in running food trucks. The restaurant on University Avenue in Lafayette now seats approximately 300 people with the expansion made to the back of KOK during the COVID shutdown.
KOK Wings & Things was Awarded the Young Entrepreneurial Business of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Louisiana District in May of 2022.
The KOK partners are committed to giving back to our community members most in need, and whenever possible have helped organizations such as Second Harvest by supporting efforts to get fresh food to people in Lafayette’s pervasive food desert in North Lafayette. This year, they founded KOK Cares, a nonprofit foundation run by Rayna Morrison, in order to give in a more organized and sustainable manner.
In March of this year, Corey was honored as a Top 20 under 40 Acadiana Leadership recipient. He believes Lafayette should be championing our local young talented people, such as our artists, teachers, and business entrepreneurs, so that we can keep our youth here.
KOK’s partners made a deliberate decision to stay in Lafayette and has built a multimillion dollar company. Corey says, “So many young people feel they have to move somewhere else to be special. That’s a problem. Whenever you feel you have to move to be special, that’s an issue. We could have had the same mindset. But we did it right here in the backyard of Lafayette and now we can affect all these other communities. Now we get to bring a piece of Lafayette to Baton Rouge. A piece of Lafayette to New Iberia, and wherever we get to grow. That should be important to Lafayette. Much more so than how to we get all these other people to pay attention to you. It’s by championing your own people do you get other people to pay attention to Lafayette.
“We lose so many people to large cities. We say we’re fighting for our youth to stay here, but I get confused by those statements. Who are we promoting? You won’t attract young people just by landing new corporate businesses or real estate deals hoping it will get people to stay. All you’re doing with that is doing the same things the big cities do on a much larger scale…. that people are already moving to. The only way to compete is to do the things the large cities can no longer do, and that is to connect with the person inside the community. Lafayette is the perfect size city. I have lived all over the country and I love Lafayette. It is the perfect sized city. It’s not too small and it’s not too big. Individuals are still very, very important and can still make a huge impact and define what this city is. If we just spend all of our time worrying about drainage and real estate deals, we’ll be fighting for things that don’t really matter within the next 20 years. People feel they have to move somewhere else to be special and that’s a problem.”
When asked by our sound engineer, Jason Sikora, what business advice Corey would give to up and coming entrepreneurs, he said, “Learn why the rules exist, instead of playing by the rules. Because often, people play by the rules the whole time and it keeps them from being able to grow. A lot of people whose business did grow didn’t play by the rules whatsoever. It’s more about learning why the rules exist so that you can understand the principle and know when to apply the rule and when not to apply the rule. I learned so much from growing KOK out of the backyard….much more than if I had earned an MBA or had a big check to go buy a physical location. Learning the ‘why’ is the most important thing.”
For more information on KOK Wings & Things, please visit https://eatkok.com/.
Thank you, Corey McCoy, for being you, sharing your story, and making Lafayette proud alongside your partners! We look forward to witnessing continued success from you, Avery Bell, Tre’Jan Vinson and Jared Johnson!