The search has ended.
I asked in last Sunday’s column for help tracking down relatives of John Young, the late Buffalo chicken wing pioneer.
Young in 1964 began serving his variation of the now-iconic fare at Wings and Things, his Jefferson Avenue restaurant. Unlike the Anchor Bar-created version that attained worldwide popularity, Young did not cut, fry and coat the wing with a hot-sauced concoction. He instead breaded and fried the whole wing, then slathered on highly seasoned, tomato-based “mambo sauce.”
Dozens of people – thank you! – called or emailed with clues, leads, recollections and information. Among those was an email from John Young’s nephew, Paul Young Jr., with contact information for him and his father, Paul Sr. The Youngs own the Taste of Soul restaurant – yes, they serve wings – on Fillmore Avenue. John’s widow, Christine, and daughter, Lina Brown-Young, also live in town.
The hits keep coming: Lina has the recipe for “mambo sauce,” which she said her father – who died in 1998 – “perfected” after a trip to Jamaica. She is thinking about whipping up a batch for the annual National Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival on Labor Day weekend, when John Young will be honored.
I sat down Friday with Paul Sr., Christine and Lina at Taste of Soul.
“He deserves this recognition,” said Paul Young – 74, tall, preacher-voiced – of his brother. “I know how hard he worked. There weren’t too many nights when his back hit the bed. He slept in his truck. He slept in a chair at the restaurant.”
“He had a business mind,” Lina added. “He was always working on something.”
John Young grew up on an Alabama farm and cooked with his father on a riverboat before moving to Buffalo as a teenager. His creativity didn’t end with the chicken wing. After moving to Decatur, Ill., in the 1970s, he had a kitchen-equipped truck that he parked outside the local steel plant, serving workers wings and soul food.
“He called it ‘Meals on Wheels,’ ” Lina said. “It was like the food trucks you see now.”
But it is for his wing variation that Young – who later returned to Buffalo and opened other Wings and Things restaurants – will be inducted into the Hall of Flame.
Had fate taken a different turn, the world’s bars and restaurants might today be breading and mambo-saucing their wings.
Even so, Young’s effort stands as an early and intriguing Buffalo variation.
I am not going to dive into the murky water of who was “first” with the wing.
Tracking down who initially did what, where and how would be like trying to trace the inventor of the wheel.
Teressa Bellissimo created her version – the type that’s now world-renowned – one 1960s night in the Anchor Bar as a late-night snack.
John Young opened Wings and Things, said his brother, after hearing about a popular wing-specialty place in (egad!) Washington, D.C.
In truth, wings were commonly part of poor Southerners’ diets since before the Civil War. The actual “originator,” if any one person can claim credit, is long lost to the mists of time.
But John Young has a place in Buffalo’s wing history.
He sounds like a pretty amazing guy.
I hope his daughter cooks up a vat of mambo sauce for this year’s Wingfest. I’ll be first in line for a taste.