A Black man from Buffalo’s East Side fought for the last few years of his life to be recognized as the inventor of the world-famous buffalo wings. Meanwhile, a local Italian family claims to be the creators.
In the 1960s, John Young owned a thriving restaurant on Jefferson Avenue, which was known as Buffalo’s Black Main Street during segregation. Before his acidic “mombo”-sauced wings became popular, he was known for his whole, breaded wings.
Today, the buttery hot sauce mixture is what distinguishes the spicy “buffalo” wings.
After graduating from high school in 1964, Theodore Clyburn, 74, recalls devouring Young’s fiery orange-red wings, according to USA TODAY.
“Anybody that was around back then will tell you that John Young was the originator,” Clyburn told USA TODAY about the owner of John Young’s Wings and Things.
Young had left the city by 1970. He didn’t think it was a safe place to live because of riots and racial hostility. When he returned a decade later, the hot wings had become the talk of the town, and all the credit had gone to Anchor Bar, a local Italian restaurant about a mile from Young’s.
“They wouldn’t have dared claim they invented the wing while my father was still around,” Young’s daughter, Lina Brown-Young said. “They just wouldn’t.”
Young shared his story to any newspaper he could find after returning to the wing business, including the New Yorker in 1980.
“I am the true inventor of the Buffalo chicken wing,” he told Buffalo News food critic Janice Okun in 1996, two years before his death. “It hurts me so bad that other people take the credit.”
“They looked like chicken wings, a part of the chicken that usually went into the stockpot for soup,” the bar’s official history read on a placard outside its door. “Teressa had deep fried the wings and flavored them with a secret sauce. The wings were an instant hit.”
Anchor Bar is now a multi-state franchise that sells bottled sauce all over the world, including Japan.
“If you talk about one of the hallmarks of Buffalo’s cultural contributions when it comes to food, chicken wings, there was an African American man there who—if it was parallel circumstances, or some kind of linear progression—he was doing it on the East Side,” City of Buffalo councilman James Pitts said.
“He was serving up stuff to his community because he couldn’t get to any other community.”