Ralph and Velveia Bankhead like to think a little heavenly intervention led them to the 1950s-era gas station-turned restaurant on the corner of North Fourth Avenue and East University.
It all started with a business networking meeting at their Phoenix church three years ago. Velveia Bankhead was the keynote speaker, and one of the guests, fellow church member Cianna Kirksey, pitched her and her husband Mike’s ATL Wings restaurant chain.
Not long afterward, the Bankheads visited the restaurant in west Phoenix — there are eight locations in the Valley — and discovered something Ralph Bankhead called life-changing.
“We ate the wings. We fell in love with the wings, like everyone when you eat these wings,” he said, sitting in the dining room of the former Tucson gas station where he and his wife on Saturday will open a Tucson outpost of ATL Wings.
“These wings do something to you,” he said, sounding like a preacher about to hit that fever pitch of his sermon. “When people eat our wings, they love our wings.”
How the couple came upon the idea to open an ATL Wings — an acronym for “all the love” — franchise in Tucson is also a bit of fate intervening, said Ralph Bankhead, who sold his trucking company to become a restaurateur.
He and his wife, who own a trio of high-end Vivaldi Salon Suites in the Phoenix area, at first flirted with the idea of opening a pancake restaurant, then a burger joint, both of which a broker they were working with nixed as not profitable.
The broker instead suggested they look into ATL Wings, and immediately, bells went off for the couple who had become regular ATL customers.
With so many locations in the Phoenix area, the Bankheads, who own the restaurant with Angela and Alphonso Tyson, turned their attention to Tucson and that 2,000-square-foot former filling station at 802 N. Fourth Ave. that had been converted into a restaurant in 2017.
The Bankheads liked the location, just up the road from the University of Arizona, and the young college clientele that regularly frequents the North Fourth dining and entertainment district. Even the prospect of having no parking didn’t discourage the couple, who pointed from the dining room to a lot across University where diners can park. And besides, Ralph Bankhead said, people downtown aren’t afraid to walk or bike or take an Uber or Lyft.
He is confident his ATL Wings will be incentive enough. ATL serves nothing but wings. No pizzas or burgers on the side; just traditional and boneless wings, fresh never frozen, deep fried and served in six dry rub varieties, seven barbecued and seven variations of hot, from mild to toxic. Prices start at $5.99 for six.
Sides include fries — Velveia Bankhead recommends you have those ATL-style with Cajun seasoning — as well as salads and deep-fried biscuits served with honey, syrup or powdered sugar, or savory with bacon. And their fountain drinks include several flavors of Kool-Aid.
“When people eat our wings, they love our wings. They are going to be willing to park, pay the meter, take an Uber,” Ralph Bankhead said. “We are confident that they are going to come back.”