Many have heard stories about how the Buffalo wing came to exist.
But, few have heard this version of events.
“It’s like with anything…you can start something. You can make something. But, if you don’t patent it, then people can take it even if people know that you started it.”
John Young moved to Buffalo when he was 13-years-old.
In 1958 he was married to his wife Christine Young, and they would go on to have three children together.
“My husband before we really got too serious, he asked me if I would go in business with him.”
At the time the Young’s were married, John was working at Bethlehem Steel, and then later American Radiator. Eventually, he left that job in 1962 and decided to go into business for himself.
He bought a property in Buffalo at the corners of Jefferson and Carlton.
While he was in business there, his daughter said a boxer named Sam Anderson told him about a person in Washington D.C. that was selling chicken wings and told him that’s what he should do.
“It was hard work, it was hard work, but after a length of time it was a good income,” said Christine Young.
He started selling the whole wing. Which — at the time — was a part of the chicken that many threw away or only used to make stock.
In a hand-written biography he left for his daughter Lina Brown-Young entitled: Biography of a Man Born With a Vision, Young said “that’s when chicken wings was born in Buffalo NY”.
Young moved the business up the street to Jefferson and High and then a few years later to Jefferson and Utica where he then realized “sauce is boss.”
Mombo sauce was brought to Buffalo.
He wrote: “The first day I opened the doors, I realized I had created a monster. People came from everywhere in droves to try the wings with the mombo sauce.”
Mombo sauce is a tomato-based sauce with a mixture of spices and seasonings.
After traveling some and spending time in the Bahamas, Young updated his recipe and tried to change it to Bahama Mama sauce, but the name wouldn’t stick.
During this time, his wife Christine said he had a number of friends and associates he would spend time with including Frank Bellissimo.
“He used to get together as some business men after hours would be talking and carrying on,” said Christine. “I know Frank used to visit my husband in the restaurant business, and I know that was before Frank started selling chicken wings.”
Bellissimo would go on to trademark the Buffalo wing with his wife Teresa years later under the Anchor Bar.
In the 1970s Young was forced to leave Buffalo with his family and moved to Deatur, Illinois.
Violence and other social factors played a role in the decision to leave Buffalo, but Young didn’t abandon his restaurant entrepreneurship.
“We moved to Illinois and he did good there with his business and he got like a little fleet of trucks,” said Christine.
But, back in Buffalo, the chicken wing business continued to boom.
The Young’s eventually returned.
“When they came back people were selling split wings, and bleu cheese and that kind of thing,” said his daughter Lina Brown-Young. “Which my father considered ‘tampering’ with the wings because he started selling whole wings, that was the original way wings were sold in Buffalo.”
John Young’s Wings n’ Things is still widely-regarded as the original Buffalo wing but those who were around at the time.
The Young family says the lack of marketing and the failure to secure a trademark is the reason John Young’s name is not recorded as the originator of the wing today.
“In hindsight, if he would have patented it we wouldn’t be having this discussion, but many people who know the history of Buffalo know who was selling wings first,” said Brown-Young.
“But, I will say, until he passed, that was something he was going downtown about about — people weren’t necessarily trying to take sides but in the same way they were. Because if you ask right now they’re going to say ‘Frank and Theresa’ and that is taking a side as opposed to saying ‘they claim’”.