Wings and Wisdom: Entrepreneur uses restaurant to reform youth

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by Stephen D. Riley
For New Pittsburgh Courier

(NNPA)—“Where I come from it was a struggle. My story is a success story. Really, I could either be in prison or dead. The fact that God saved me and saved me for something bigger, my job is to make things better for people.”

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RICHARD JOHNSON
(Courtesy Photo)

When Richard Johnson speaks, people listen. The 48-year-old restaurant owner doesn’t rehearse his lines or talk smoothly to save others’ feelings. When he reprimands one of his younger employees, he’s not doing it out of annoyance or frustration; he’s doing it for a bigger purpose: to make that young man or woman a better, more polished person and professional. Born in Buffalo, N.Y., a troubled Johnson was shipped to Florida as an adolescent due to behavior problems. It was there where he matured quickly before moving to few other stops around the country and finally settling in Washington, D.C. because he “loved the blackness of the city.”

Now, Johnson is the owner of two wing spots in Prince George’s County, Metro City Wings and Marlow Wing House, but he’s not your typical wing house store runner. No, Johnson’s much more than that. Ask any of his younger employees and they’ll tell you he’s more of a mentor than manager. More of an encourager than an employer and more of a builder than he is bossy.

Johnson operates both wing houses through the employment of troubled teenagers and welfare-saddled mothers, providing a true place of an equal opportunity where other companies fall short. But Johnson not only provides a place of employment, he also provides a tutorial of sorts where he can relay personal instructions to help others grow and blossom once they leave his protection.

“I want to employ people that others have given up on,” Johnson says. “When I get these young people, they don’t even know how to talk or shake your hand. So I teach them skills to one day become self-entrepreneurs for themselves. When they leave my business they have the mindset to be something more, one day. Somebody has to give them a chance.”

Through Johnson’s helping hands, some of his employees have gone on to new heights from owning their own businesses to working at Radio One—one of the most prominent Black-owned broadcast companies in the nation.

The records of his employees include minor brushes with the law and major convictions, but despite some pretty intimidating labels, Johnson hasn’t stopped giving people a fair chance. His restaurants are run so precisely to his rules and regulations that it allows him to let his 27-year-old son manage one location while his 19-year-old son controls the other. The youth in his restaurants from top to bottom have also inspired other local youngsters to inquire about employment, so much so that Johnson actually has to turn some applicants away; but that all could be changing soon.

His next location is scheduled to open close to downtown Baltimore City and he is currently working on landing a spot in one of D.C.’s major sporting arenas. “I have two people working on possibly getting me into the (Major League Baseball’s) Nationals Stadium or the Verizon Center or FedEx Field.”

Even if a location is landed in one of the District’s prime venues, the goals and the giving back won’t stop there. Johnson has a plan and the mission is simple: help the youth.

“My goal is to open stores all over the D.C. area and parts of Maryland and employ the young people,” Johnson said. “I want to employ our young people at an early age so they will want more in life instead of walking around here and not wanting to do anything.”

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