Congratulations to our 2021 inductees!
Mark Gress: Founder of Nine-Eleven Tavern
At the Nine-Eleven Tavern, there are only four options for wings – hot, medium, mild and plain – yet this workingman’s tavern tucked away on a quiet street in South Buffalo has carved out a reputation as one of the city’s best options for its signature food. Nine-Eleven’s presentation – carefully placed wings and celery revolve like clockwork around a bowl of blue cheese adorned with celery leaves – is without precedent locally. And the wings themselves are large, crispy, and saucy. Order the hot wings to try Nine-Eleven’s sauce – one of the most flavorful in town – in its purest form. It starts sweet and tangy, then builds towards a robust, fiery finish. Only one man made the wings here for nearly 40 years: the late owner Mark Gress, who opened the Nine-Eleven in 1981 and spent nearly every night in the kitchen until his death in 2020. Before he passed away, Gress turned over his closely-guarded wing recipe to his daughter, Paige, who now cooks the wings every night just like her father once did.
Stan Friedman: Chicken Wing Ambassador
With no personal knowledge that this was happening but with the unanimous consent of the entire National Buffalo Wing Hall of Flame Committee and Wing King Drew Cerza himself, our Chairman, Stan Friedman joins the prestigious list of 2021 inductees into the Hall of Flame. Stan is a seasoned franchising veteran, a life-long foodie and has chaired the Hall of Flame since its inception in 2006. For nearly five years, Stan served as Executive Vice President and partner at the Wing Zone Franchise Corp., where he led the Atlanta based chain’s development charge, growing them to nearly 100 units. Since 2013, Stan has been President and partner in FRM Solutions, Inc., a franchise-centric technology company that assists franchisors with the management of relationships, with their prospective and existing franchisees. He is also the Co-Founder and Managing Member of ZorForum, an ecosystem of mastermind groups, designed exclusively for emerging franchisors.
Stan serves on the (IFA) International Franchise Association’s Educational Foundation’s Leadership Council and Board of Trustees, is a past member of the (IFA) Supplier Board and is a founding member of the (IFA) Diversity Institute. Stan also produces and hosts “Franchise Today,” a weekly podcast, available for download, wherever podcasts are found. A native New Yorker, Stan has called Atlanta home for more than 30 years. Stan has also served on the board of the Georgia Restaurant Association and most importantly, is a confessed “wing-o-holic.” He loves Buffalo and frequently travels to WNY, to satisfy his craving for the world’s greatest selection of wings and of course, to promote economic development in our region
Cecil and Dianne Crowley: Founders of Wild Wing Cafe
The story began years ago in Atlanta in the early 1900’s, where a couple of advertising executives treated some 300 guests to decadent homemade party food every Super Bowl Sunday during the four-year Buffalo Bills run. The first dishes to disappear, year after year, were the platters of flavored wings served alongside homemade blue cheese dressing. No big surprise, really, for old family recipes that were unlike anything food-loving crowds had tasted at the time. Creating and dining on deliciously fun food always came naturally to Cecil and Dianne Crowley. So when they moved to the beach on South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island, they were surprised to discover there wasn’t a single restaurant serving great wings.
The first Wild Wing Cafe opened in the late 1990’s with eight sauces and rubs. Back then, flavored chicken wings weren’t the only thing considered a rarity at the restaurant. The founders were among a minority when it came to preparing popular bar foods like nachos and onion rings using fresh rather than packaged ingredients. Since then, the restaurant has grown into a multi-unit company, and the company into a much-loved wings franchise. While other restaurants are content to use pre-processed frozen foods reheated in microwaves, every Wild Wing Cafe serves great homemade food. Dressings, marinades, soups and dips are made fresh every day. They also continue to operate by the belief that they have the people—franchisees and their loyal customers—to thank for the tremendous success of Wild Wing Cafe. Without them, the vision of two advertisers-turned-restauranteurs may never have become the growing franchise it is today…one that thrives on a mouthwatering menu of signature homemade dishes, seasonal ingredients, an extensive beer list and, of course, plenty of fantastically flavored wings.
Gabriel’s Gate, Buffalo, NY
It is said that perfection is reserved for the “next life.” Well, perhaps there’s a bit of irony then, in the fact that the closest thing to perfection, this side of thee pearly gates in the eyes of many wing aficionados is found in Allentown, at Gabriel’s Gate. For 50 years, Gabriel’s Gate has been serving up their heavenly wings and more recently, to more than just the locals. It’s no surprise that YELP and Trip Advisor have all caught on the classis taste and flavor of this Allentown Landmark. In 2018, Bon Appetit named Gabriel’s Gate the best place for wings in Buffalo. Is it the chicken, the skin, the sauce or the perfect sized wing? The answer to all, is YES!
Once you pass through the gothic gates in front of this Allen Street favorite, you can grab a seat inside, or at their outdoor courtyard. The atmosphere is like a rustic hunter’s lodge, with antique ceilings from the 1800s and a menu that consists of traditional pub fare: but today, it is their wings that we are here to celebrate. Traditional, Cajun, BBQ, or suicidal – all crisped to perfection.
This staple of Buffalo’s Allentown neighborhood for the last half-century has kept its wings consistent through the years – a touch crispy, with a splash of Frank’s RedHot. Gabriel’s Gate is the standard for a wing done right. As the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.” These old school wings have earned their reputation and continue to attract tourists and wing seekers to it, as does a magnet to steel. Now, along with the regulars, a steady and growing stream of travelers are finding them, each year.
As owners Bill and John Hall celebrate the Gate’s 50th anniversary, it is so fitting that we celebrate this classic Buffalo establishment, as our 2019 restaurant inductee, into the National Buffalo Wing Hall of Flame.
Chef Armand Vanderstigchel
Chef Armand Vanderstigchel, partner and chef at the newly revived and opened Jolly Onion restaurant in Pine Island, NY, continues to pave a culinary trail touching on every possible food industry matter possible. He is excited and honored to serve such a wonderful community that is receptive towards his central European cuisine that encompasses cuisines of Poland, Holland, Austria, Belgium, France and Scandinavia.
As a Chef he has worked for Hilton, Marriot and Radisson Hotels, Top catering facilities on Long Island, Albany University, Bethel Woods and R & D Executive chef for the legendary Stew Leonard’s of Yonkers. He has also done food styling assignments with PBS star Lidia Bastianich and catered for Steven Spielberg movie set “War of the Worlds”.
His culinary talents are also recognized by many major food companies such as Franks Red-hot, French’s Mustard, Miss Butterworths, Log Cabin Maple Syrup, Jarlsberg and New Amsterdam Cheese, which have commissioned him as a spokesperson and recipe developer.
As a culinary instructor he has taught students at the Culinary Training Center in NYC, Children’s Village in Dobbs ferry, Wilson Tech Boces, Commack School District, Barnes & Nobles stores and many public Libraries in NY State.
As co-host of the successful PBS series “Adirondack Cuisine” and feature chef on almost 100 TV networks shows such as ‘Today Show, Food Network, Fox National and Fuji TV Japan, he has demonstrated his skills as an entertainer and culinary educator.
Chef Armand has penned three widely recognized cookbooks “Adirondack Cuisine”, Adirondack Cookbook” and “Chicken Wings Across America”. As a judge of many food contest, Chef Armand has been featured on the Food Network. He has always visited his roots as a specialist in Belgium/Dutch cuisine and many of his dishes and recipes are to be found on menus of prominent Belgium restaurants in Manhattan, NYC. He is also one of the official Judges for the popular Westchester Magazine Wing Fest at the Yonkers Casino every September.
In the Hudson Valley/Catskill region he ran the Bethel woods Center for the Arts culinary department for Comcast NBC, encompassing the multiple food buildings and VIP area on the property, as well catering to stars such as Rod Stewart, Roger Daltrey, Sting, John Cougar and many more. This year, after being featured in Orange County magazine, The Valley Table, Hudson Valley Magazine and Edible magazine, he will have the honor of being inducted in the National Buffalo Wing Hall of Flame at the National Buffalo Wing Festival in Buffalo, NY this Labor Day weekend.
An honor that in past years have been bestowed to pioneers in the national chicken wing restaurant industry such as” the Anchor Bar” in Buffalo and the national chain “Buffalo Wild Wings”.
At “The Jolly Onion”, he is back cooking food from his childhood growing up in Holland (Europe), tapping into the original roots and recipes that always have been prevalent in restaurants in Central Europe. “It makes me happy to cook in a community that understands this cuisine and appreciates it “says Chef Armand about his new home base in Pine Island, NY.
Ivano Toscani, Anchor Bar
Born in Milan, Italy, Ivano Toscani grew up next door to a printing business and studied the trade at the Rissoli Printing School in Milan. He was inducted into the Italian Army at the age of 19. Following his discharge, he returned to Milan to work as a printer and pursue his passion for riding motorcycles. Later, Ivano moved to Buffalo NY. He worked at a printing company in Buffalo and took night classes in English at the International Institute of Buffalo. An official at the Institute sent Ivano to the Anchor Bar to help the owner, Frank Bellissimo brush up on his Italian. In exchange for the language sessions, Frank offered to teach Ivano everything he knew about the restaurant business.
Ivano and Frank actually forged a relationship that saw the two working side
by side for seven years. They cut wings together, sausages, potatoes, as everything was made by hand. Frank and Teressa encouraged Ivano to study their
“old school” ways of doing things: from menu development, to interacting with customers and them all feel special. These lessons made an enormous impression on young Ivano and he plied his trade seven days a week.
After Frank died in 1980, his widow, Teressa, who fried up the Anchor Bar’s first wings in 1964, and his son, Dominic, urged Ivano to stay. Ivano did stay and went on to become a vital part of creating the Legend of the Anchor Bar as he became General Manager and Public Face of the Anchor Bar, following Dominic’s death
As General Manager, Ivano was co-owner for many years with Dominic Bellissimo’s widow, Edith, and transformed the restaurant into a mecca for chicken wing lovers far and wide and filled walls with photos of celebrity customers and displayed license plates and motorcycles from his collection. With his close companion Marcie by his side for his last 25 years, together they burnished the Anchor Bar’s legend as the birthplace of the Buffalo chicken wing.
Ivano Toscani has cooked for Presidents, appeared on National television and promoted wings as an Ambassador for Buffalo as well as the restaurant, but Ivano never took credit for any of it. Ivano was not a man given to accepting accolades or seeing his name in lights. No, he was more a True Grit kind of guy. He liked building things, working with his hands and he was always passionate about his work, his people and his customers.
Ivano Toscani and The Anchor Bar, will forever be as linked to the iconic popularity of the chicken wing, as the wing is with Buffalo, NY. He too, will be forever linked to the hearts and palates of millions of wing lovers, the world over. It is for that reason, that today, we proudly induct him posthumously, into the National Buffalo Wing Hall of Flame.
Bocce Club Pizza
It is said that those born into inherited wealth, are born with “silver spoons” in their mouths. Well Jim Pacciotti was certainly gifted with an inheritance at birth, but no silver spoons here, just pizza. And, not just any pizza, we’re talking Bocce Club Pizza, a Buffalo tradition since his dad Dino opened his first shop on Buffalo’s east side in 1946, offering old world recipes that he brought home with him from Italy, after serving our nation in WWII.
Today, nearly three quarters of a century later, Bocce Club Pizza has expanded their menu and grown with the times, but they also remain true to Dino’s traditional, old world, core values. Excellent customer service and high-quality ingredients.
And, Bocce Club Pizza has always been a cutting-edge enterprise. They were first in the region to offer take-out, first at take and bake and today, they not only deliver locally, but they now spread the best in taste and flavor all over the country, with nationwide delivery. That’s how good Bocce Club Pizza is. In fact, ask Jim to tell you the story about the out-of-town customer who called for a delivery one day and angrily called again a day later, when the pizza did not arrive. They later came to find out that the delivery service driver could not resist the aroma and actually apologized for eating the pie that he was supposed to deliver. Yes, pizza is their core business, but the Bocce Club Pizza menu is diverse and that of course, brings us to wings. Like most everyone in town, Bocce Club Pizza serves the traditional Mild, Medium or Hot Buffalo Chicken wing, but in addition, they offer “over the pit” grilled wings, sauced in Honey Mustard, Cajun or BBQ.
Speaking of BBQ, Bocce Club Pizza has participated in the National Buffalo Wing Festival since its birth in 2002 and has taken home an unprecedented 32 trophies over 16 years. Included in those awards, were 16 National trophies for their pit BBQ wings. There is no questioning the fact that Jim Pacciotti is a true blue ambassador for Buffalo NY, for the National Buffalo Wing Festival and of course, for our beloved chicken wing. With all of this as foundation, it is an honor and a privilege to induct Bocce Club Pizza into the National Buffalo Wing Hall of Flame.
The DUFFS story has roots dating back to 1946, 18 years before our beloved chicken wing was even born, when Louise Duffney opened a little Gin Mill in Amherst, which would one day become DUFFS Famous Wings. You must fast forward to 1969 though, to get to the real meat of this story. That’s when this local tavern began serving wings. About 20 pounds or so each week, a lot in those days, but nothing compared to the 70,000 pounds that crossed the collective counters of all Duff’s Restaurants, during the week running up to this year’s Super Bowl. Duff’s reputation began building steam in the 80s, when locals began making it their destination for “Buffalo’s best” wings. In 1985, that claim to fame saw DUFF’s management modify their branding to Duff’s “Famous Wings.” 1985, was a memorable year in Buffalo history: On January 18th Mayor Jimmy Griffin told Buffalonians to “Stay inside, grab a 6-pack and watch a good football game,” as more than 33” of snow pounded the Queen City, that day. A few months later, remarkable winds whipped through the Queen City, when 43 tornados kicked things up, in and about WNY. Three or four of those peaked as F3s or F4s, with winds topping 250 MPH. How appropriate then, that 1985, also be a year that recorded record heat. Not summer heat, but rather the heat emanating from DUFF’S growing reputation, for serving the hottest wings in town. The Anchor Bar forever lays claim to starting it all, but by the mid-80s, DUFF’S was already getting credit for perfecting what the Anchor Bar began. Duffs was already establishing itself far and wide, not just amongst Buffalonians, as the destination for “best in class” traditional hot chicken wings.
Duff’s still operates that original Amherst location, featuring the same excellence and tradition that Louise Duffney introduced back in 1969. But not sitting on their laurels, in 2010, The producers of the Travel Channel’s Food Wars TV program challenged Duffs to “take on Buffalo’s long-time arch rival in a head-on competition.” One can’t help but wonder, if DUFF’S victory in that televised event, had something to do with President Obama’s visit to their Cheektowaga store, just a few weeks later. Yes, the President of the United States came calling, shaking hands, kissing babies and ordering “10 to go.” More expansion followed in 2014, when Duff’s partnered with the Buffalo Bills, bringing a version of Duff's Famous Wings to Ralph Wilson Stadium. Today, DUFF’S boasts 5 Buffalo-area locations, one in Rochester, another in suburban Dallas, 3 locations operating in Toronto and their most recent franchised location blazing a trail in the Atlanta suburb of Newnan, GA. Like it’s sauce, so too, is this true, for the brand.
Congratulations to Ron and Joe Duff and to Jeff and Kirk Feather, proud owners of Duff’s Famous Wings and this year’s inductees into the National Buffalo Wing Hall of Flame.
La Nova Pizzeria
Since its inception in 2006, The National Buffalo Wing Hall of Flame has sought to identify and celebrate those who have played significant roles in the stunning growth and popularity of our beloved chicken wing. Each year as the Festival begins we honor the contributions of early adapters without whom, wings might still be relegated to the trash, as opposed to the center of the plate. What better reason could there be, to celebrate the story of Papa Joe Todaro and the legacy of La Nova Pizzeria and Wing Company. It all began at 43 South Niagara in Tonawanda, some 59 years ago. The La Nova story is one that embraces culinary greatness, extraordinary work ethics and most importantly a philosophy that to this very day screams, “Customers Equal Family.” It was not until 15 years later though that this story embraced our beloved wing. January 6, 1971 to be exact, was when La Nova moved to North Buffalo and among other epicurean delights like white pizza and steak and cheese subs, began offering their now world famous Bar-B-Que Wings. It was a couple of years later, that their next move to the family’s roots took place, when West Ferry and Hampshire Street became home base.
The next La Nova milestone in chicken wing history came in 1994, with the birth of La Nova Wings. With this new company came production, processing and nationwide distribution of the now famous La Nova Bar-B-Que wings product, as pizzerias nationwide, began introducing La Nova products. Locally too, the La Nova Brand continued to expand, with another location added in Williamsville and through partnerships with the Buffalo Bills, the Bisons and the Sabres. Add all of these milestones together and you have some of La Nova’s incredible ingredients for success. Then, add hard work, diligence fine ingredients, generous portions and customer satisfaction you now have the recipe, the “secret sauce” if you will, that has made La Nova Pizzeria and Wing Company iconic, globally.
It is no accident that La Nova Pizzeria and Wing Company is celebrated here today and worthy of the honors we bestow upon this historic business today. Others would do well to follow in these footsteps, where history has proven that The La Nova Way, is the best way, to assure that the best is yet to come.
Today, we memorialize this Buffalo treasure with this recognition and service to the community, as well as to wing-a holics nationwide, with this induction into the National Buffalo Wing Hall of Flame.
“There once was a time when finding great wings in Wisconsin, was as difficult as it still might be, to find a Wisconsin Cheese Head in Western NY. But Larry Schaefer’s changed all that. Legend Larry as he has since become known, is a man who simply couldn’t live in a part of the world where tasty wings were easily found, so he took matters into his own hands and ended that dark period in history, nearly 15 years ago. After toiling in his kitchen for what seemed like ages, Larry, (not yet a legend) emerged, ready to share his creations locally, but it didn’t take long for the Legend to be born. Legend Larry’s was founded in Sheboygan, WI in 2001. In the beginning and following in his dad’s footsteps, Legend Larry’s was a corner bar, but unlike his dad who served pub food, Larry only served wings. Larry always loved good wings and since, at that time, the popularity of our beloved treasure was nowhere near what it has become today, there was not a single place in Sheboygan to get good wings. So that became his mission. Larry decided to make wings like Sheboygan had never experienced. It just so happens, that in that process, he created some flavorful sauce profiles unlike anything tasted the world over, including right here where it all began, at the world-famous Anchor Bar.
Legend Larry’s was one of the earliest non-native “Mom & Pop” wing joints to serve up their local sauces at the National Buffalo Wing Festival. His amazing recipes and passion for all things “wings” quickly earned the adoration and respect of both locals and out-of-towners at WingFest and just as quickly they became one of the most awarded restaurants in the history of the festival. Proof that Larry’s sauces are more than just good; they are in fact, “the stuff of legends.”
Since their first visit to Buffalo, Legend Larry’s has opened new locations in Manitowoc, Green Bay, and Sheboygan Falls. They have also registered with the State of Wisconsin to begin awarding franchises. That said, Legend Larry is a family man and his business model definitely shows it. Larry is the founder, the boss, and the visionary. And, as so often is the case with successful entrepreneurs, there is a great woman behind the man at Legend Larry’s. His wife, Tammy is the voice of reason in the business and their son Dane is their digital guru. Daughter, Amber, is an R.N. in Sheboygan and they also have three amazing grandchildren. Please give it up for our 2015 Hall of Flame honoree, Legend Larry.
Floyd and Judy Anderson
As with any good story, it all started with a road trip in the ‘70s. In 1978, Judy and Floyd Anderson crammed their family and their belongings into their car and did what Americans have been doing for more than 200 years – they headed west to chase a dream. They embarked on across country move from Buffalo, New York, to Phoenix, Arizona with their four young daughters in the backseat. The Andersons decided that once they had settled in Arizona, they would open a restaurant. Sharing a passion for food and people, Floyd and Judy believed that a restaurant would allow the family to work together. They bought a small local pizza joint, named it “Native New Yorker” in memory of the home they’d just left, and threw their life savings into building a successful business. It wasn’t that easy. After months of terrible sales, long hours, and a roller-coaster of emotions, Judy had an epiphany: Chicken Wings. Being from Buffalo, New York, Judy and Floyd had spent many nights feasting on a local culinary phenomenon served at the now famous Anchor Bar. “If it worked there”, Judy thought, “why not here?” And with that, Judy made a trip to the local grocery store to buy enough chicken wings to test the east coast favorite on the incidental restaurant patrons they still had. They were an instant hit! Even though they left western New York, the Andersons were thrilled to be able to bring part of the culture to the southwest. Native New Yorker began receiving awards for their wings almost immediately. The Andersons soon became local icons, and Native New Yorker (or, “Native”, as the regulars called it), became an Arizona favorite. Floyd and Judy have been credited for not only pioneering the wing movement in the southwest, but for creating a lasting legacy for their family. Fast forward to today. In 2014, Native New Yorker officially shortened its name to Native Grill & Wings, and gave the logo a much-needed facelift. These days, the family, together with a strong leadership team and a growing group of franchisees, is expanding Native Grill & Wings and receiving nationwide recognition. Recently named on Restaurant Business Magazine’s Future 50, Native has become known as a polished sports grill that proudly offers 19 wing flavors that the guest can order by the each! This year, Floyd and Judy are being recognized for bringing the infamous Buffalo wing to the Arizona market, and for founding a brand that has acquired a cult following over the past 35 years. Native Grill & Wings is proud to announce the Andersons as this year’s 2014 Inductees into the National Buffalo Wing Hall of Flame.
John Mack Young
Since its inception in 2006, The National Buffalo Wing Hall of Flame has sought to identify and celebrate those who have played significant roles in the stunning growth and popularity of our beloved chicken wing. Each year as the Festival begins we honor the contributions of early adaptors without whom, wings might still be relegated to the trash, as opposed to the center of the plate. What better reason than that, to celebrate the story of John Young and his little-known contribution to that endeavor? It is a story that was almost lost to history, but the Hall of Flame uncovered it and we tell it to you here. Some actually claim that John Young’s creation actually predates that of the Anchor Bar’s legendary Teressa Bellissimo. The Hall of Flame doesn’t know if that is true and will not litigate that question here. There is however, no question that Mr. Young was in fact, an early chicken wing pioneer who has earned his rightful place in chicken wing history.
His story was recently written about by by Hall of Flame Board Member and Buff News Columnist, Donn Esmonde. With permission, that story is paraphrased here:
A man’s chicken wing legacy needs to be honored. His contribution needs acknowledging. The recognition would, ideally, include the re-discovery of the recipe for his long-lost “mambo sauce.” John Young, former Buffalo restaurateur and chef is more than an asterisk in the rich annals of the chicken wing. He is a pioneer.
In the 1960s, Young – independent of the 1964 wing-creation of Teressa Bellissimo at the Anchor Bar – came up with a variation of the now-renowned delicacy.
Although Young claimed credit as the “true” creator of the chicken wing phenomenon, his is obviously not the version that the world subsequently came to know and love. But had fate taken a different turn, we might today be slathering our wings in mambo sauce – and Young would posthumously wear the crown of creation.
Although his conception of the chicken wing was not widely appreciated, it was an early, historically intriguing variation on a Buffalo standard.
Young said he started selling wings in 1963 and opened Wings and Things on the city’s East Side in 1964. He recalled the restaurant’s instant popularity in a 1996 interview with then-News food critic Janice Okun.
“The day we opened,” Young said, people “were lined up around the corner.”
Young first ate wings while growing up in South, where meals in the African-American community were commonly made of the “spare” parts of animals. A decade after moving to Buffalo as a teenager, he decided to go all-in with a wing-specializing restaurant.
In the traditional version “invented” at the Anchor Bar, the wing is cut in half, deep-fried, slathered in a hot-sauced concoction, and served with celery and blue cheese dressing.
Young breaded and fried the whole wing – a variation still served in some Southern restaurants. Instead of a hot sauce coating, he concocted a highly seasoned, tomato-based “mambo sauce.”
Young eventually retired from the business and died at age 64 in 1998. He was survived at the time by his wife, Christine, at least one sibling and eight grandchildren.
Today, we give the man his due and memorialize his historic contribution along the culinary path that has become today’s center of the plate the world over. Today we celebrate John Young’s contributions and honor his memory, as our 2013 inductee into the National Buffalo Wing Hall of Flame.
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.
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.
Bill Murray “Osmosis Jones”
|In 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
|As 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.|
Jonathan A. Dandesand the Buffalo Bison Baseball Organization
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
Antonio 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.
Donn Esmonde – The Buffalo News
Donn 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.
Frank’s Redhot Cayenne Pepper Sauce
|It 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!|
Buffalo Wild Wing Founders
|Their 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.|