It’s been awhile since I talk about food—since I looked into the history of Peanut Butter. But I was looking into some recipes recently and this led me on a road that ended with Buffalo wings. It picked my curiosity:
Who Invented Buffalo Wings?
Weirdly enough, it’s not clear. There are contradictory testimony, confusion about dates, and bars… But it definitely came from Buffalo, New York. We are going to start with the most popular story.
“It was Friday night in the bar and since people were buying a lot of drinks he wanted to do something nice for them at midnight when the mostly Catholic patrons would be able to eat meat again.” — Dominic Bellissimo, New Yorker Magazine, 1980.
The Friday night was in 1964. The place was the Anchor Bar, on Main Street. Frank Bellissimo had received a delivery of wings. It was accidental or not, depending on the testimony. If you are to believe Dominic, Frank’s son, he asked his mom, Teressa, to cook the wings at his request. Frank claimed that the recipe was just invented to do something with all those chicken wings.
What prompted Teressa to invent the recipe doesn’t matter in the end, she just cooked those wings—she deep-fried chicken wings and flavored them with a secret sauce, but she also chopped each wing in half and served two straight sections that the clients could eat with their fingers—and everybody liked them.
Rapidly, chicken wings became really popular, even outside of Buffalo as Dick Winger, who used to sell hot sauce to the bar, went on the road with Dominic Bellissimo to promote the dish and—of course—sell hot sauce. Soon, Buffalo Wings were added to restaurants’ menus around the country.
In fact, McDonald’s started selling its “Mighty Wings” in 1990. A year later, it was KFC’s turn to launch its “Hot Wings.”
John Young Chicken Wings
Like I said at the start of this article, there’s some confusion about dates and other facts. As Dominic Bellissimo progressively erased his own father from the official history of the Chicken Wings, it’s not surprising that not all the details are going together perfectly. The origin of the confusion is the fact that there was not one article about the popular Anchor Bar’s wings published in the local newspaper during that time.
But the truth seems to be that the Chicken Wings were introduced in Buffalo by John Young. This young black man from Alabama followed his father to Buffalo where, after some different jobs, ended up selling food. Someone told him that people were selling chicken wings in D.C.—this part of the chicken was not popular at that time. He thought about it, fried the wings, invented his Mumbo sauce, and quickly found success with his wings. It was 1963-64.
Of course, at the start, John Young only cooked for the black community, but his wings rapidly found their way to the white side of Buffalo. In 1970, racial tensions were at a high point in the city and John decided to leave (he moved to Decatur, IL). During his absence, other bars and restaurants started to sell their own Chicken Wings.
Teressa Bellissimo was certainly the one who thought about chopping each wing in half, and her recipe became famous. But she was not the first Buffalo Chef to cook the wings, John Young was.
One thing is sure, Buffalo has celebrated Chicken Wing Day every July 29 since 1977.