WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — A new restaurant will soon be opening its doors on the East Side of Wichita Falls, but for those who call the neighborhood home, it’s less of a grand opening and more of a long-awaited homecoming.
On Wednesday, April 5, 2023, officials with the Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce introduced its newest member, a locally-owned restaurant called Wangs & Thangs.
They announced they would be opening their doors on Wednesday, April 12, 2023, at 11 a.m. The restaurant is located at 1400 Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard in the East Side community of Wichita Falls.
If the name Wangs & Thangs sounds familiar, it’s not a coincidence. The restaurant once stood on Rosewood Street in East Side before closings its doors in 2007. Owner Dwight Haywood, a long-time resident of Wichita Falls with deep roots in East Side, is returning to the food industry after a 16-year hiatus.
Haywood was raised in the East Side community, and he’s seen the highs, lows, and everything in between during its history. He’s hopeful that the second coming of his once-popular restaurant catalyzes growth in the community he calls home.
“If you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you’re going,” Haywood said. “And that’s just the bottom line.”
Haywood comes from the “Golden Age” of Wichita Falls’ East Side. The community was a vibrant, thriving one in the 1940s and 1950s, with over 50 Black-owned businesses. Haywood said he’s proud of where he comes from.
“The community was like a village,” Haywood said. “It was something to be proud of.”
The neighborhood was centered around Booker T. Washington High School, Wichita Falls’ all-Black public high school. The Home of the Leopards opened in 1922 and was the focal point of the community. As more businesses opened around the school, Booker T. Washington became the center of Wichita Falls’ Black community.
“The Leopards were state champions for two years. You had businesses just wherever you went, so I didn’t know anything else,” Haywood said. “Nothing was better to be a part of than the East Side of Wichita Falls.”
The Wichita Falls Independent School District integrated in 1969, closing Booker T. Washington and spreading members of the East Side community among the district’s three high schools. Despite knowing it was the right thing for the future of Black residents in Wichita Falls, many residents, including Haywood, point to Booker T. Washington’s closure as the beginning of East Side’s decline.
“It was a good thing,” Haywood said. “It was a good thing, but it hurt the community in itself.”
A number of Black teenagers, including Haywood, transitioned from Leopards to Coyotes and became members of the Wichita Falls High School football team. With multiple state championships in football of their own prior to integration, the addition of athletes from Booker T. Washington played a large part in the Coyotes winning another title in 1969.
Haywood played cornerback for the Coyotes during their championship season, though he still called the East Side of Wichita Falls home. Today, the once-thriving community barely resembles what it once was.
“It’s sad for me to see,” Haywood said. “You know, I can’t look over here and not do something about it or try to help the community.”
That, more than anything else, is the reason Haywood will be giving the restaurant business a second chance, and bringing back Wangs & Thangs after 16 years.
“What I need is for the community to grow, and that’s what it’s all about,” Haywood said. “That’s what the first Wangs & Thangs was about, and that’s what this one’s going to be about.”
Haywood’s first iteration of Wangs & Thangs was located on Rosewood Street in East Side. The restaurant was thriving before he had to close up shop in 2007 for personal reasons. Now, he’s excited to open his restaurant once again.
Ahead of the April 12 grand opening and ribbon cutting of the new Wangs & Thangs location on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, Haywood made a promise to the residents of Wichita Falls.
“If you come eat with us, I guarantee you’re coming back,” Haywood said.
Wangs & Thangs will offer nine different flavors of wings, according to Haywood. They’ll include the following:
- Famous Hot wings
- Hot Cheetos wings
- Barbecue wings
- Garlic wings
- Parmasean wings
- Ranch wings
“The main flavors that everybody likes,” Haywood said. “But, we cook it with love, you know?”
Wichita Falls residents who don’t enjoy wings can still enjoy the plethora of alternatives Haywood said will be offered at Wangs & Thangs.
“Fish, shrimp, barbecue,” Haywood said. “The things man, that’s the things. You know we got the things too. We got some fried ribs, fried pickles, and nine flavors of wings, man. It’s different. People love it and I love it.”
Haywood said he’ll also be holding a Wing Challenge. He said if patrons can eat six of his hottest wings in five minutes or less, without any other food, side dishes, or anything to drink, they’ll win $25.
“I ain’t ever had nobody to do it yet but, hey. I love the challenge,” Haywood said. “I hope somebody will do it, and that’s great.”
At the end of the day, though, Haywood said it’s not about him. He’s just hoping to be the catalyst for growth in the community that he’s loved his whole life.
“There’s a lot of young entrepreneurs that’s gonna come behind me, that’s gonna do even more and better things,” Haywood said. “This is just the start.”
And, if it indeed only takes a spark to get a fire going…
“We bring the heat and the smoke baby,” Haywood said. “You can’t get no better than that!”