We need your help choosing the 2016 nominees for the National Buffalo Wing Festivals’ Hall of Flame. We need you to nominate a restaurant, a sauce, a person or company. Please email us at [email protected] with your nomination of an individual or what entity you think should be inducted into the Hall. The committee will take all nominations from the public into consideration when making their selection.

Meet the Hall of Flame Committee here.

2012 Inductees

George Shea

Major League Eating, is the sanctioning body for all professional eating contests worldwide. The organization, which developed competitive eating and includes the sport’s governing body, the International Federation of Competitive Eating executes world-class eating events all over the world. The world’s top competitive eating stars – many of whom have competed right here in Buffalo year over year, great names like, Joey Chestnut, Sonya Thomas, Patrick Bertoletti, Eater X Tim and Bob Shoudt — all Major League Eaters. MLE conducts approximately 80 events annually, including that “other NY Event” the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest, at Coney Island. . Last year alone, MLE promotions generated more than 25 million television viewers, who saw stories on the Buffalo Wing Festival. From local affiliates in every major city in the U.S. as well as the Today Show, CBS Morning Show, ABC Morning Show, CNN and FOX News, to name just a few. Major League Eating has become a tremendous sounding board for the festival, hence elevating the popularity of both Buffalo AND chicken wings the world over. It is for these reasons, that Major League Eating will be forever enshrined in the Buffalo Wing Hall of Flame! And along with Major League Eating, three of its biggest stars… the first, is its founder and CEO, he who stands behind microphone and beneath his infamous straw hat and winds up our crowds year after year. He is the Master of Ceremonies extraordinaire, the man who…if words themselves could be weighed, would too, be a champion in his own right… We are referring about none other than the gastronomical genius himself, Mr. George Shea.

Eric “Badlands” Booker

He is known as “The People’s Champ,” Eric Badlands Booker has maintained a position at the top of the Global Major League Eating rankings for years, and is still there… but no place in the world is he revered, like he is right here in Western NY. Eric “Badlands” Booker has become as much a part of the fabric of this festival as has the beloved chicken wing itself. Always smiling, always lighting up the stage and entertaining the audience with his inspiring raps, always HUNGRY and FOCUSED… yes, Booker is more than an eater–he is a personality. He is accomplished in judo, works the #7 line as a conductor on NYC’s IRT, he lives on LI with his wife and son and in the hearts of all Western New Yorkers, he is Eric Badlands Booker, our second 2012 Hall of Flame inductee.

Sonya Thomas

And finally, there is a century-old prophesy within the competitive eating community, dismissed by most that foretells the rise of the One Eater, a woman who will electrify America’s gurgitators and lead them to international victory once again. Like Joan of Arc before her, this eater will be slender of stature, but mighty in strength. In recent years, the prophesy has been mentioned more and more frequently as the eaters have watched Sonya Thomas excel in nearly every contest she enters. The former 2003 IFOCE Rookie of the Year, “The Black Widow” quickly ascended to the top of the ranks, both at the table and in the eyes of fans. Standing at a slender 105-pounds, Sonya continues to amaze as her fellow peers appear to be watching, dumfounded, as she sees her hand raised in victory time after time. Sonya continues to be tested by other American eaters, such as Eater X, Pat Bertoletti and Joey Chestnut, and for years has turned back all challengers here in Buffalo NY. Today, she remains the reigning United States Competitive Wing Eating Champion and holds more than twenty other world eating records. Above all though, here in Buffalo, it is about more than just eating when it comes to her love affair with Western NY and Western NYs affection for her. Our final inductee to the 2012 Hall of Flame is the Black Widow herself, Sonya Thomas.


2011 Inductees

 Bill Murray “Osmosis Jones”

billmurryIn 2001, actor Bill Murray starred in one of his notoriously eclectic movies entitled, “Osmosis Jones.” In this film Murray played the part of an average Joe addicted to fried food and other artery-clogging fare, who was headed to Buffalo New York for… of all things… ..a chicken wing festival. Well, as we all know, at that time there WAS NO CHICKEN WING FESTIVAL in Buffalo, NY…..at least not yet.   Buffalo News columnist Donn Esmonde heard about the Murray movie, and wondered, in print, “why isn’t there an annual National Wing Fest in Buffalo?” Esmonde further suggested that there should be such a festival, mostly as a means of claiming what was rightfully a Buffalo creation. Buffalo’s modern-day PT Barnum (aka Drew Cerza) read the article and called Esmonde the very next day. He told the News writer that he agreed with his theory and was thinking about starting just such a festival. Esmonde subsequently wrote about the local promoter’s Wing Fest plan and asked the Buffalo community for its support. That was 10 years ago…a Wing Fest decade filled with 575,000 people, 3 million wings weighing more than 150 tons, 191 participating restaurants, $200,000 in charitable contributions and, yes, even a wedding….with Wing Fest number 10 soon on deck.   Over the last ten years, the story of Bill Murray’s movie inspiring Wing King Cerza’s Festival has become the stuff from which legends are made. After all, had Drew Cerza not viewed Murray’s Osmosis Jones, the City of Buffalo would not have become the premier travel destination for more than half a million chicken wing junkies, and Bill Murray would never have achieved his legendary stature as a chicken wing cult figure. And while Osmosis Jones may not have been a home run box office hit, there is one thing that is beyond refute. Bill Murray and his movie are what ultimately have brought all of us here today, and they are also why people from Buffalo and beyond celebrate each and every Labor Day weekend at Coca-Cola Field.   So on this, the 10 year anniversary of the National Buffalo Wing Festival….an event that once existed only within the celluloid world of Osmosis Jones, but was brought to life by the inspired vision of Buffalo Wing King, Drew Cerza…. it seems only fitting to honor the man who served as that inspiration.   And so…. because of his flawless enactment of the story of Frank Detorre….an everyday Joe who simply wanted to take his daughter on a fun family vacation to Buffalo’s annual chicken wing festival….we are thrilled and honored to induct Bill Murray into the National Buffalo Wing Hall of Flame.

Drew Cerza – Founder of the National Buffalo Wing Festival

DCSmAs most everyone now knows, the connection, made nearly a dozen years ago between Donn Esmonde’s newspaper column about Bill Murray’s eclectic movie, “Osmosis Jones”, was what actually inspired the birth of the National Buffalo Wing Festival and subsequently, Drew Cerza’s globally renowned status as the world’s undisputed Wing King. But, there is more to the “secret sauce” inside the Wing King’s DNA. There is a great deal more that makes Drew Cerza tick. And that quite likely, is a fact not known by the average Western New Yorkers. Yes, Drew Cerza is a world class promoter, a modern day P.T. Barnum of sorts, something that has in fact helped boost the Festival’s status to that of a “world class” event. At his very core, the essence that we find, is an incredibly sensitive heart and soul. It’s Drew’s passion for making people’s lives better. It’s his instincts and an inane ability to bring people, places and things together, that all benefit from the bridges that he builds. THAT’S what drives Drew Cerza and compels him to do the things that he does. This is an irrefutable fact, instantly evident to anyone who has witnessed the relationships he possesses with his family, his love for his hometown, his friends and the charitable causes that he works so tirelessly to promote.From different perspectives, many cases could be made for why The National Buffalo Wing Festival has hosted more than 400,000 people, served some 2.5 million wings that weigh in at over 140 tons of our treasured drums and flats. Why nearly 200 restaurants have participated for what has now been a decade and why this annual Labor Day celebration has raised over a quarter of a million dollars for local charities. Yes, many cases for this success could be made, but none would hold as true as this. It didn’t just happen by itself, nor has it been just luck or coincidence. No, the truth is that it happened by design.Drew Cerza’s vision has transformed Buffalo, NY into MECCA, for wing lovers the world over. For ten years, they have made their annual pilgrimage to the Queen City from all 50 states, countless cities and some 34 countries on four continents. They come here one and all; to participate in the “experience” that IS the National Buffalo Wing Festival. An experience defined by the heart and soul of its creator, the Wing King himself, Buffalo’s own Drew Cerza. And so, to officially kick-off the 10th Anniversary of this highly anticipated and widely celebrated event, it is the esteemed privilege and honor of the Hall of Flame Committee, to induct our beloved Festival’s Founder, the Wing King himself, Drew Cerza into the National Buffalo Wing Hall of Flame.

2010 Inductees

Jonathan A. Dandesand the Buffalo Bison Baseball Organization

WF10 Bisons Hall Of Flame

For more than two decades, the Buffalo Bisons have built one of the most respected organizations in professional sports. The combination of strong leadership and a team of associates with a “get it done” attitude is the reason the Buffalo community has embraced the Bisons as the place to go for the best family sports entertainment value in the area. The Bisons commitment to the community has had a great positive impact in Western New York.In 2002, when Drew Cerza decided to create the National Buffalo Wing Festival, it was the proverbial no-brainer to approach the Bisons to host the event. What Cerza didn’t realize, was that the venue was much more than a field. It included an organization of dedicated professionals that are the best in their fields.President of Baseball Operations, Jonathan A. Dandes and Bisons associates Mike Buczkowski, Robert Free, Tom Sciarrino, Roger Buczek, Kevin Parkinson, Joe Petronella, Eugene Steele, Sean Reagan, Curt Anderson and Jim Morrissey, make up an organization that companies in Buffalo strive to duplicate. The Bisons have won championships on the field, but have built a dynasty off the field.Who would have thought when you needed to find a way to serve 91,000 people 40 tons of chicken wings over two days that the answer would be a baseball organization? The National Buffalo Wing Festival wouldn’t be in existence without the Bisons organization. The Wing industry will forever be indebted to them for helping create the Super Bowl of Chicken Wings. All of America tips their hats in honor of one of greatest sports organizations in the country, the Buffalo Bisons, whom will forever be enshrined in the Buffalo Wing Hall of Flame.

Antonio SwadFounder, Wingstop Restaurants

WF10 HOF Swad PictureAntonio Swad is the founder of nationally acclaimed Wingstop Restaurants, a franchised chain that today has grown to become one of the top wing brands in the country, with nearly 450 locations in the U.S. and Mexico and some 100+ in development.Today we celebrate Antonio’s love affair with chicken wings. For him, that began at age 22 when he waited tables at a restaurant in Columbus, Ohio where he was in charge of keeping hors d’oeuvres stocked for happy hour. He noticed that every Wednesday, the crowds were growing larger. Wednesdays was wing night. It was then he started to believe that wings would become the next big thing. Over the next ten years he kept bumping into wings more frequently and by 1993, he had literally set up a series of deep fryers in the living room of his modest home to begin creating and testing wing recipes.In 1994, Swad founded Wingstop, featuring wings and only wings as the center of the plate item on the menu. He received lot of push back by many naysayers, but Antonio had a vision and was not to be denied. By 2002, the original Wingstop location was grossing about $1.5 million per year in sales. This was accomplished by making the limited selection of 8 wing flavors and fresh-cut seasoned fries exceptional. And remarkably, the restaurant, with a small footprint of approximately 1200 sq. ft. didn’t even open until 4 p.m. daily. In 2003 Antonio sold the 100 unit concept, which was then operating in 16 states, to a group that became Wingstop Holdings. By 2007, Wingstop had reached the milestone of ‘1 Billion Wings Sold.’ Also, at the 2007 National Buffalo Wing Festival, Wingstop Restaurants received the “Wing King” award for their quality sauces, popularity with festival attendees, and overall excitement that they brought to the event. Today, we celebrate how it all started.

2009 Inductees

Donn Esmonde – The Buffalo News

Donn EsmondeDonn Esmonde has been a columnist at The Buffalo News for 12 years. He started his 24-year career with The News as a sports feature writer and columnist, and for five years was the columnist in the Life section. He’s won numerous NYS Associated Press awards, in addition to other honors. Esmonde is 53 years old and lives in the city of Buffalo with his wife, an education specialist for the Buffalo Public Schools, and their two daughters, 14 and 11 years old. He spends his free time reading, coaching girl’s softball, abusing his electric guitar and attempting to keep up with the demands of a century-old Victorian home.In August of 2002, he heard about the movie “Osmosis Jones” that featured actor Bill Murray playing a guy addicted to fried food and other artery-clogging fare. His young daughter, fearful he would keel over, wanted him to take a hiking vacation. Instead, he bolted for the National Chicken Wing Festival in Buffalo. Which raised the question: Why isn’t there an annual National Chicken Wing Festival in Buffalo?   Esmonde wrote a column suggesting that there should be a National WingFest in Buffalo in 2001, as a way of staking claim to what is rightfully ours as well as to capitalize commercially on a Buffalo invention. Buffalo’s own Drew Cerza read it and called him the next day. Donn wrote about Drew’s plan in his next column and asked the community for its support. The rest is history. That was seven years and 2.4 million wings ago.   Because of Esmonde’s column and continued support of the event, the National Buffalo Wing Festival has grown into one of America’s favorite festivals. Thanks Donn, we owe it all to you!


Matt Friedman and Adam Scott – Founders, Wing Zone

In 1991, University of Florida fraternity brothers Matt Friedman and Adam Scott embarked on an entrepreneurial journey that forever changed the Buffalo chicken wing landscape when they founded Wing Zone after recognizing a demand, yet no concept offering delivery/ take-out of the tasty product. Quickly, the duo built up several restaurants spread across their beloved campus and neighboring states, yet were disappointed their product couldn’t reach the taste buds of more wing fanatics. Equipped with a great product, system and brand, the success story strengthened with the launch of the Wing Zone franchise (more information at www.wingzone.com).Since then, Friedman and Scott have grown Wing Zone to 100 locations, with 30 more in development. As one of the nation’s fastest growing takeout/delivery chains — known for its 15 award-winning flavors of fresh, cooked-to-order chicken wings, fingers, chicken sandwiches, burgers and more, its growth has significantly “heated up”. To this day, Wing Zone has remained dedicated to supporting emerging and established entrepreneurs, promoting the originator of chicken wings – Buffalo, and maintaining a fanatical following.

2008 Inductees

Frank’s Redhot Cayenne Pepper Sauce

  hof_frankshotIt was Frank’s RedHot Cayenne Pepper Sauce that Teressa Bellissimo used in the creation of the original Chicken Wings at Buffalo’s historic Anchor Bar in 1964. Since then, consumer’s desire for the distinctive taste of Frank’s RedHot has risen to a fever pitch. And face it, without Frank’s RedHot there’d be no Buffalo Wings as we’ve come to know them!

2007 Inductees

Buffalo Wild Wing Founders

hof_wwlinkTheir 2007 induction coincides with the 25th Anniversary of Buffalo Wild Wings, which began in 1982 as Buffalo Wild Wings and Weck, commonly referred to back then as BW3. It was a modest beginning for these life-long friends, who were recent transplants to Kent, Ohio at the time. Craving their beloved “Buffalo Wings” from back home, they decided to start their own restaurant near Ohio State University.

2006 Inductees

The Anchor Bar

hof_anchorbarlinkFrank and Teressa Bellissimo, founders of the Anchor Bar Restaurant and creators of the original Buffalo Wing sauce, have become the first inductees into the newly-announced Chicken Wing Hall Of Flame in Buffalo, New York. Online voting and committee meetings solidified their induction.