BURRILLVILLE – Frank Galleshaw III, the owner of Wright’s Farm Restaurant, says that sometime in the 1990s, he tried making a single change to the popular business’s small menu, switching out shells for rigatoni.
“That lasted two weeks,” Galleshaw told NRI NOW with a laugh. “There were so many complaints.”
The restaurant, which serves up some 10,000 to 12,000 pounds of chicken each week to hungry guests from across New England and beyond, would never again alter the tried-and-true family-style chicken formula that has brought the Wright’s Farm family growth and success over the past five decades.
“I think that’s why it’s so popular. It’s about consistency,” said Galleshaw, adding of his customers, “They know what they’re going to get when they come here.”
And come, they do – in impressive numbers. The Inman Road restaurant, marking its 50th year in the Galleshaw family in 2022, employs 155 people and serves up an average of 5,500 whole chickens per week.
The business itself is even older, first opened by Gene Wright sometime in the 1950s. Galleshaw’s parents, Frank and Joyce Galleshaw, purchased the restaurant in 1972. The couple, who at the time lived in Warwick, bought the then 400-seat business at the suggestion of their accountant, who also had Wright as a client.
“He felt it was a nice fit for him and his personality,” said the younger Galleshaw, who eventually took over the business. “My father gave it a shot, and here’s where we are today.”
It was Wright, of course, who gave the business its name, and who also developed a simple menu featuring all-you-can-eat family-style chicken served with pasta, salad, rolls and French fries – or a 14-ounce sirloin steak dinner as the sole alternative.
“The way it is now is exactly the way it was when my father first bought the establishment,” Galleshaw said of the offerings.
Back then, the restaurant was one of many in the area specializing in the affordable family meal. Many have since closed their doors or adapted their menus to meet changing demands. But Wright’s, tucked away on an 8-acre property off Broncos Highway, just continued to grow, adding on rooms to seat even more patrons.
“We just kept growing with the popularity of it,” said Galleshaw. “I don’t think my parents ever had plans on doing that.”
In the early years, the business was only open on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, since the area’s predominantly Catholic diners didn’t eat meat on Fridays.
Galleshaw, who now runs the business with wife Susan, notes that Wright’s was purchased on his 10th birthday and would provide the backdrop for much of his childhood. The family moved to Burrillville, and Galleshaw recalls workers watching over him and his sister.
“They all kind of treated us like their own children,” he said of restaurant staff. “It was a lot of fun, but you couldn’t get away with much.”
As punishment, “my father sent me to the kitchen to sort silverware,” he said.
It was Galleshaw’s grandmother who launched what would eventually become a popular gift shop inside the Wright’s complex, after she had the coat room turned into “Granny’s Candy Shop.”
In addition to sweet treats, “she would sell her ceramic pieces,” said Galleshaw.
Now, the 4,000 square-foot gift shop is a large piece of the family’s success, selling everything from the restaurant’s signature homemade salad dressing, to clothing, jewelry, candy and toys.
“My sister and my wife took that gift shop to another level,” said Galleshaw. “They sell wonderful things in there.”
The restaurant itself had seating for 1,400 in 2020, but decreased that number to 1,200 during the pandemic to add space between tables. Galleshaw said he does not intend to return to the pre-COVID setup.
“It’s been good for us. People are more comfortable,” he said. “Society has changed in how we feel about being close to one another. It’s working better, I think, now than the years before the pandemic.”
The virus brought about other changes to the business as well, including online ordering and improvements to the reservation policy, which used to only allow parties of ten or more to hold a table.
“We’re just making it easier for the public. It’s more organized,” said Galleshaw. “After Covid, we said, ‘we need to be better at this.'”
Asked what the future holds for Wright’s Farm Restaurant, Galleshaw replied, “I don’t have plans.”
“I think that’s worked for us – to never have plans,” he said. “If we need to make it larger, we’ll make it larger.”
As for a new generation of Galleshaws eventually taking the reins, Frank III said that his two sons went into finance, but that a nephew who works there could end up next in line. For now, he notes, he’s grateful for what his family has accomplished.
“To be in any business for 50 years is very unusual, especially a restaurant,” he said. “It’s a very difficult business to have any longevity in.”
He credits the loyal customers, but also the staff, noting that many at Wright’s have worked there as long as he has. Two of the chefs were also his classmates, starting the job in high school, and now manager Roger LaPierre, started at age 13.
“He would walk here,” said Galleshaw. “He’s done every job in this place. This has been his life. He’s really been a brother to me.”
“This turns into a home for people,” Galleshaw added. “They care about this place as much as I do. I’m very fortunate.”
It’s been at times, an unexpected rise to notoriety for a family that’s made a life serving a classic meal, catering to generations of other area families that have made Wright’s a part of their traditions.
“We are an institution, not only in the town of Burrillville, but the state of Rhode Island as well,” said Gallshaw. “I take it for granted because I’ve been here all my life, but it’s amazing how many people have come here, and it stays with them. It really is a unique experience.”