What's in a name: Wife Saver
It starts with the name.
To those who have lived in the area for a long time, the name is synonymous with good food available at an affordable price.
For those visiting or new to town, the name is attention-getting - to say the least. The moniker in question is Wife Saver.
The restaurant chain, with eight locations across the CSRA including establishments in Aiken and North Augusta, originally opened in 1965.
The brainchild of George Cunningham Sr., the first Wife Saver restaurant was opened in the front yard of his house on Milledgeville Road in Augusta.
"He ran the cafeteria at Lily Tulip (now the Solo Cup factory) for 19 years and wanted to go into business for himself," said George's son Chris Cunningham, the president of Wife Saver Inc. and owner of the Wife Saver in North Augusta.
"He ran it as a family business. We lived right behind it so he had a built-in workforce," Cunningham said of the restaurant he helped dig the foundation for when he was a 12-year-old. "I walked out the front door of my house into the back door of the restaurant."
Over the course of 44 years, the restaurant that started in the front yard has grown.
"In 1968, we built the second store on Washington Road. It took off from there," said Cunningham, who intended to go to law school after graduating from the University of Georgia, only to return to the family business to help his ailing father.
George Sr., whose picture is still found in every Wife Saver and on the menus, died in 2003.
The original Wife Saver on Milledgeville Road is no longer open; however, at one point 10 Wife Saver restaurants were operating. The expansion has also resulted in a very successful catering business.
In spite of all the changes and the award-winning menu famous for its authentic Southern cooking, the franchise's signature is still its name.
"My dad was talking about opening a restaurant and (the whole family was) sitting around the dinner table talking about names," Cunningham recalled. "He was talking about saving the house wife from having to cook. It was Adelaide, my grandmother, who suggested Wife Saver."
Some may take umbrage with the name, but it's more of a colloquial relic of a previous era than the product of a sexist agenda.
For those who get ruffled feathers over the name, keep in mind the birds that adorn the restaurant's logo are love birds, with the idea that a meal from Wife Saver would ease the daily workload of housewives.
Single-income families, with the husband as the primary bread-winner, were more common in 1965 compared to today.
"It went through time, we've been criticized by people who think it's chauvinistic," said Cunningham, admitting there were serious conversations about changing the name.
The height of these deliberations took place in the late 1970s, around the time the Equal Rights Amendment was proposed by the burgeoning feminist movement.
"We discussed whether it was detrimental to our business. But the criticism was so minimal - two or three people in a year would complain," Cunningham said. "We thought the positive aspects of our reputation far outweighed the criticism. ... We felt like the name, we've had it since 1965 and we're not going to change."
Brand identification is one of the most vital elements in marketing. For better or worse - mostly better - Wife Saver has instant recognition with its name. In spite of a few double-takes or ruffled feathers, customers think of food when Wife Saver is mentioned, not misogyny.
"We've been in business for 45 years and have a positive reputation," Cunningham said.
"We feel like we've built name recognition and a good reputation for food quality. We've outlasted a lot of competition," Cunningham said before listing the names of restaurants, locally-owned and nationally-operated, with similar menus that have come and gone.
"People born and raised here don't have a problem," Cunningham said. "It's usually people not from around who think it's unusual."
Many newcomers or visitors struck by the name Wife Saver tend to be amused. This interest has led to another profitable side business - gifts and paraphernalia bearing the Wife Saver logo.
"People see the name, think it's funny and want to take it," Cunningham said of the gift shop at his Wife Saver, which features hats, T-shirts, koozies, golf towels, coolers and aprons.
"They think it's catchy and want to take it on a hat or T-shirt."
What's also catchy are some of the memorable slogans and jingles used to promote Wife Saver over the years.
Among the more popular ones are "Wife Saver, you're a life saver" and "Put a little South in your mouth."
And who could forget, "Don't forget the 'nana pudding"?
"People will holler those across the street at me," Cunningham said.
Future plans include marketing portions of Wife Saver's menu outside the restaurants and improving the restaurants themselves. Cunningham said plans are already drawn for a new building to replace the Wife Saver in North Augusta.
Further expansion is an option but maintaining current Wife Saver assets is the top priority.
Ultimately, it's the food that's helped make Wife Saver an institution.
For all of the unique names, clever jingles and marketing strategies, Wife Saver has flourished because of its menu. It features items ranging from fried and grilled chicken to seafood, all accompanied by vegetables, breads, desserts and iced tea.
Among the most popular items are the macaroni and cheese and the banana pudding.
The hard work of its dedicated employees is part of what makes Wife Saver's homemade meals unique.
The customer still wants the same thing they wanted 40 years ago," Cunningham said. "Good food, good service at affordable prices. I think they'll always want that. We're pretty good at that. We're still here."
For Wife Saver's menu, go to http://www.wifesaver.biz.
For information on catering, call 279-1446.
Wife Saver Locations
- 651 Silver Bluff Rd, Aiken - (803) 642-0441
- 414 Martintown Rd, W, North Augusta - (803) 279-1446
- 1501 N Leg Rd, Augusta - (706) 736-5593
- 3316 Washington Rd, Augusta - (706) 860-2605
- 503 Highland Ave, Augusta - (706) 738-6628
- 2707 Mike Padgett Hwy, Augusta - (706) 798-6777 *
- 116 S Belair Rd, Augusta - (706) 868-5182
- 1100 Furys Ferry Rd, Evans - (706) 855-6870
Contact Noah Feit at email@example.com.