El Wingador giving the restaurant business another fry

Bill “El Wingador” Simmons in his glory days – after winning the 2002 Wing Bowl, holding daughter Felicia, then 4.

No, we have not heard the last of Bill Simmons, the retired competitive eater and five-time Wing Bowl champion from South Jersey known as El Wingador.

Simmons — putting his life back together after a drug arrest and two years in prison — said he plans to return to the restaurant business with El Wingador’s Serious Frickin’ Chicken. His partners include Joe Vallee, who helped write the autobiography that Simmons started while in prison, and Bob Silzle, a franchising specialist who helped syndicate the burger chain Five Guys.

Simmons said the fast-casual restaurants — which he would like to start opening next year, first possibly in Delaware County — will feature fried and grilled chicken, mac-and-cheese, “El Ringador” onion rings, fries, and a dessert that features fried chicken and doughnuts. (As for Simmons’ own diet, he said, “I’m 55 years old and my heart is saying, ‘You have to go somewhere else, buddy.'”)

Camera icon CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Bill Simmons in February 2012 – several months before his arrest – with wife Debbie, daughter Felicia and son Sean.

Simmons’ previous restaurant effort, El Wingador’s To-Go, lasted four months in 2007 on a corner in Northern Liberties. His partners then included an aunt and uncle. He believes that professional management this time will help matters.

The partners have launched a Kickstarter campaign with the hope of raising $25,000 to create a logo, website, and marketing materials. The Kickstarter rewards will include signed copies of Simmons’ book, a chance to have dinner with Simmons, and a tailgate party with Simmons. For $1,500, Simmons will host a competitive eating competition in a home or office.

Simmons is back to driving a truck, now for an excavation company, and sometimes speaks to groups about his rise and fall, which shattered his family. “It’s therapeutic,” he said of the speeches. He also reads voraciously — mainly business and how-to books.

In June 2012, police stopped Simmons in his El Wingador-branded Kia Soul. They seized about $8,000 worth of cocaine and about $4,000 in cash. Simmons was sentenced to seven years in prison and served about two years; his parole will be up next year, he said.

Camera icon CURT HUDSON
Bill “El Wingador” Simmons in 2013 as an inmate at Southern State Correctional Facility in Cumberland County, N.J.

His wife, Debbie, who left him when he went to prison, took him back after his May 2015 release. His son Sean, now 11, who Simmons said took his incarceration really badly, is now his constant sidekick. Simmons also has a 37-year-old son and daughters, 18 and 22.

Once out of prison, he had nothing, he said. “I did house clean-outs,” he said. “I did a lot of things to build character. I surrounded myself with great people.”

He said used his book, Snow on the Barb Wire, to “come clean on everything.”

“I can’t believe I’ve gotten this far,” Simmons said.

His life, in 2012, was “a basically a runaway train. Financially, I was a mess. The bills are coming in and I couldn’t keep up. You know, 2 plus 2 equals 5 is a mistake. What I made were bad choices. I knew I was messing up. This started out small and it grew into this big monster.”

As for his detractors, he said, “I live my life not caring what they think — as long as I’m doing the right thing. I’m nobody’s hero. At the end of the day, I’m Bill Simmons, just trying to make a living.”