The year was 1964. March 4th, 1964, to be exact. A bartender by the name of Dominic Bellissimo was cutting limes, wiping down glasses, pretending to be invested in someone’s hard-luck story about the Bills falling one point shy of the spread (probably), and awaiting the arrival of his friends.
When his buddies showed up, Dominic went into the kitchen and asked his mother, Teressa, to fix something for his hungry guests. She wasn’t sure what to make, so she improvised by deep frying chicken drumettes – usually reserved for soup – and coating them in her secret sauce, which was tangy, slightly spicy, and super addictive.
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From that moment on, “Buffalo Wings” were a mainstay at Buffalo, New York’s Anchor Bar and, soon, became their claim to fame. And that’s the story of how Buffalo Wings were invented 56 years ago today. At least, that’s one version of the tale.
“I am the true inventor of the Buffalo chicken wing,” John Young told The Buffalo News in 1996, two years before he passed away. “It hurts me so bad that other people take credit.”
Young readily admitted that Teressa Bellissimo was the first person to bisect the wing into more manageable pieces and the first to serve them with celery and blue cheese. But he says he was the first person to make and sell the Nickel City signature.
Young grew up on his family’s farm in Alabama, where he was one of 14 children. There wasn’t always a ton of food to go around, so they made do with what they had in the soul food tradition (“We children seldom got the top-shelf cuts,” Young explained. “My mother was very religious – the breast and thighs went to the preacher.”)
Later, Young moved to Buffalo and worked as a chef for a handful of restaurants. That’s when he met a well-traveled boxer who told him about a restaurant in Washington, D.C. that prepared and plated chicken shoulders, rather than using them exclusively as a soup starter.
After that, Young’s wings coated in his Mambo Sauce (sans butter; avec seasoning) took off. He opened up multiple outposts of Wings and Things in Western New York before he relocated and flew back south.
With its claim as the birthplace of wings, Anchor Bar remains a WNY attraction with sister locations in Texas, Ontario, Canada, and many states in between. Young, meanwhile, didn’t register any trademarks tied to wings, but he did leave behind a handwritten account of his story for his children and grandchildren.
Today, Buffalo Wings are big business. Last year, Slice partnered pizzerias sold 2 million wings, which even drummed sales of garlic knots (1.5 million) and salads (1.16 million). Most of those wings were covered in the butter-and-vinegar mixture popularized by Anchor Bar. Many, including Young, felt that his tomato-based sauce was superior.
“Anybody can do wings,” Young said. “But if you don’t have the Mambo Sauce, you don’t have anything.”