Forty-five years after Teressa Belissimo invented Buffalo Wings at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, N.Y., chicken wings remain as popular as ever—especially during football/tailgating season. Teressa’s simple sauce recipe—basically, three parts Frank’s RedHot and two parts butter—started a wings explosion.
Today there are a number of restaurant chains that specialize in wings, among them are Buffalo Wild Wings, Wingstop, and Wing Zone.
We recently had a chance to visit with the founders of the Atlanta-based Wing Zone chain, Adam Scott, 36, and Matt Friedman, 39, who began their chicken wing odyssey back in 1993. The pair were fraternity brothers at the University of Florida, majoring in Business/Finance with passion for two things: owning their own business and chicken wings.
Friedman says they had next to no experience in the restaurant business. “We were just wing fanatics,” he says. Growing up on New York’s Long Island and making frequent visits upstate to visit relatives, Friedman knew what authentic Buffalo Wings should taste like. Soon the two frat brothers were making wings and selling them like mad to fellow students on the Gainesville campus. “We worked hard to duplicate the flavor of the original buffalo wing,” Friedman says. “The deep fry cooking process—cooking them up crispy—the classic spicy sauce flavor, with the blue cheese on the side.” He says it’s all about the wrist action, flipping the wings around in the bowl of sauce to get good coverage. “People often use too much arm action,” Friedman adds.
Today Wing Zone has nearly 100 units in the U.S., with heaviest penetration in the southeast. But they’re in an expansion mode and actually opened their first international store in Panama this summer, with plans to open Wing Zones units in the Bahamas and Japan soon. “We want to get as many wings into the hands and mouths and stomachs of as many people as we possibly can,” Scott says. He expects Wing Zone to be open for business in four or five countries by the end of 2011. Expansion and franchising are a major focus right now, he says.
“Tailgating” at home
The company’s core business is takeout and delivery, although some units have limited dine-in facilities. “Our business plan is you can stay home, have a cold beer, and we’ll bring some amazing wings right to your door,” Friedman says. The stores’ delivery area is basically anywhere that can be reached within ten minutes.
The chain offers 15 different sauce flavors, including some dry rubs—and they’ll soon be introducing some new ones including something called Bacon Nirvana, plus Salt & Vinegar, and Hickory-Ranch. One of the most popular flavors is Lemon-Pepper, Friedman says, and Honey Barbecue is the best seller. And the company’s Garlic Parmesan flavor recently took home the Best Creative Sauce prize at the Buffalo Wing Festival in New York.
In addition to wings, Wing Zone’s menu includes “a great half-pound burger” Friedman says, plus french fries, grilled chicken sandwiches, mozzarella sticks, onion rings and salads. Lately they’ve been featuring their Angus sliders and chicken finger sliders.
Friedman and Scott maintain an optimistic business outlook in spite of the sluggish economy. “People see this doom and gloom, and it’s real,” Friedman comments. “However, there are brands growing like Wing Zone, and it’s really cool to see the different angles we’re going into.”
With football season in full swing, it seems like everyone is winging it these days. “From September to Super Bowl, that’s our big season,” Friedman says.
When footballs are being thrown, wings are getting tossed…in big bowls of sauce. But be careful. Not too much arm action, now.