In The Pipeline: Flying high on tangy wings

September 28, 2011|By Chris Epting
(Courtesy Chris…)

Was it an earthquake? An explosion? What was that strange eruption that took place on Beach Boulevard between Ellis and Talbert avenues at about 1:15 p.m. Sunday?

Wait. It was more than 100 intense Buffalo Bills fans reacting to their team's wild win over the New England Patriots.

The place is Buffalo Wings 'n Things, 18302 Beach Blvd., where each Sunday since 1989 the Bills faithful have gathered to cheer on their team.

It all started just after owner Don Hayes (a dyed-in-the-wool Brooklynite who has never been to Buffalo) opened his establishment more than 22 years ago after seeing how well a couple of other Buffalo Wings 'n Things were doing in Florida.

He did it on a lark. And his now-famous wings didn't exactly fly out of the kitchen that first year.

"This is California, and they hadn't discovered Buffalo wings yet," Hayes said as we stood in his restaurant, the room steadily filling with men, women and children clad in red, white and blue.


A brief history of Buffalo wings: Late one night in 1964, a man named Dominic Bellissimo was tending bar at his family's restaurant, the Anchor Bar Restaurant in Buffalo, N.Y. That evening a group of Dominic's (hungry) friends came in, so Mrs. Bellissimo whipped up something special.

She deep-fried the wings and covered them with a secret, tangy sauce. From that point on, Buffalo wings became a regular part of the menu at the Anchor Bar, and word spread fast until other restaurateurs were soon serving them.

Like Hayes.

But how to sell Buffalo wings in Huntington Beach in 1989, when so few knew what they were?

Enter Bills fan and Buffalo native Tom Kelly who came in one day and pitched Hayes on the idea of becoming the Sunday meeting place for Bills fans — already tried and true wing lovers.

Hayes agreed. And a new California chapter of the Buffalo Bills Booster club was born, with Kelly serving as first president.

"They saved my business," Hayes said. "Every Sunday we'd be packed with Bills fans, and they helped spread the word about the place."

Although Hayes needed to invest in a satellite dish to ensure that every game could be seen at Buffalo Wings 'n Things, his investment has more than paid off.

"This is about more than football," Hayes beamed, surrounded by pennants, jerseys, pictures and other Bills memorabilia that crams every spare inch of space. "It's about community. And friendships that have been created. This is a special group of people."


A game day visit

The day of the Patriots shocker, I met some of them.

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