April 14 2010 12:00 AM

Ric Payne and Will Howe unleash The Wild Beaver on downtown Lansing



They look like male models, they’ve got names like video game characters, and their life stories appear to be equal parts Forrest Gump, Ron Popeil and George Clooney. So what brings Ric Payne and Will Howe to Lansing? In a word: beavers.

In the next week or so, The Wild Beaver Saloon, the fourth franchise in a minichain, will open on the 200 block of S. Washington Square in downtown Lansing. With a name primed for double-entendres and an all-female waitstaff wearing barelythere uniforms, the Wild Beaver seems at first to be a Coyote Ugly/Hooters hybrid. But Howe insists he and his partner Payne had another chain mash-up in mind when they founded the concept four years ago.

“Remember Farrell’s (Ice Cream Parlour)?” Howe asks. “Every time someone ordered one of their giant sundaes, a siren would go off, the lights would start flashing and they’d wheel out this huge trough of ice cream as part of this big spectacle. We create that same kind of energy at Wild Beaver, and it’s all tongue-in-cheek fun — we don’t do anything dirty or vulgar. I like to think of it as a Chuck E. Cheese for grown-ups.”

Jerome Abood, local real estate developer and the Lansing location’s joint venture partner, happened upon the original Wild Beaver Saloon last year when visiting Indianapolis to watch MSU play in the NCAA men’s basketball semi-finals.

“I thought it was a great concept,” says Abood. “I loved the design, I loved the rock and roll music, and I loved the way the waitstaff interacted with the customers. I thought it would be a perfect fit for Lansing.”

Abood approached Payne and Howe about opening a Wild Beaver in mid- Michigan, and the two partners came up to see if it could work.

“Sometimes people forget their ZIP code when they visit other cities and think that a successful bar that they see in Miami or L.A. will work in their home city,” says Howe. “It rarely does, but Jerome’s idea to bring the Wild Beaver to Lansing was a stroke of genius. This bar’s going to kill here.”

Payne, 48, and Howe, 44, have been in Lansing for the past couple of months leading the construction of the new location — they personally build each Wild Beaver, customizing each one for the region. (“This is the most beautiful Beaver we’ve made yet,” says Howe.)

Between the two of them, they’ve acted in professional films and national commercials (yes, you’ve seen them if you watch any TV at all), worked as models and translators, played Big Ten football, received patents for more than half a dozen inventions, and eventually segued into owning and operating bars, restaurants and nightclubs. To hear their backgrounds, you wonder why they’re getting their hands dirty.

“This is my favorite part of the job,” says Howe, immaculately coiffed with a stylish fauxhawk despite a couple of layers of dust from working all day. “I hate running bars. It’s more fun being artsy-fartsy. It’s like senior-year art class every day.”

This being the 21st century, the next step is, of course, reality television. Payne, a dead ringer for Tim McGraw, holds a forefinger grimy with today’s work fractions of an inch from an equally dirty thumb.

“We’re this close to landing a reality show on Spike TV,” he says, eyes narrowing in sincerity. “They want to follow us as they travel around opening new franchises. Will and I have a lot of fun doing what we do, and I think it’s going to be something people will be really interested in watching.”

Payne says that the Lansing Wild Beaver will feature prominently in the show, as he and Howe will be back to mid-Michigan frequently to check up on things.

“I almost played football for MSU, so I was somewhat acquainted with the area before we came up here last year,” says Payne. “I didn’t know what to expect as far as the bar scene went, but I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of foot-traffic. I love how downtown Lansing has become a real hotspot. I’m really happy to be here.”

For more information on Will Howe, Ric Payne and the Wild Beaver, go to www. WildBeaverSaloon.com.