Ron Duff didn't invent chicken wings.
Ron Duff isn't the founder of Duff's Famous Wings in Buffalo.
Ron Duff is, however, in very large part responsible for the ever-spreading chicken wing phenomenon we all love and experience today. On Sunday, May 7, the world lost one of the wing game's most important pioneers at the age of 84.
The Duff legacy began in 1946 when Ron's mother, Louise Duffney, opened a spot called the Sheridan Patio on Sheridan Ave in Amherst, NY which quickly evolved into Duff's Cocktail Lounge. Hanging around at the restaurant, working, playing and sometimes actually living there since he was seven years old Ron became a lover of chicken wings (one of the world's first true Wingaddicts) before the restaurant ever served one.
As recalled by his son Joe Duff this week; Ron would order large batches of "mumba-style" chicken wings from John Young's Wings N'Things (even before Buffalo-style wings were invented at Anchor Bar) and hammer them down with friends while watching the Buffalo Bills games. The Bills were actually a charter member of the AFL (American Football League) in 1960 and won AFL titles in 64 and 65 before the AFL/NFL merger in 1970.
As legend has it, Buffalo-style wings were invented at Anchor Bar in 1964 and (along with a few surrounding establishments) they would serve them up as "freebies" at the bar to draw in customers. At that point, wings were a "throw away" portion of the chicken and thus inexpensive. During that span, Ron Duff (then in his mid 20's) would frequent a local establishment for hot wings multiple times a week before going to work at Duff's - which was primarily just a bar at the time. The owners there, took a liking to Ron and taught him how to make wings.
So, in 1969, Duff's added hot wings to their menu with Ron's special new twist: He wanted his to be saucier and spicier than the wings most people were getting used to. He even devised a menu slogan warning his customers that "Medium is Hot, Medium Hot is VERY Hot, Hot is VERY, EVERY Hot."
He then spent the next 35 years working on what would become his chicken wing legacy until his health forced him to take a step back at around age 65.
"My father worked at Duff’s until his rotator cuffs blew out from the strain of shaking so many baskets of wings," says his son, Joe. "When he initially started, he sold 20 pounds of wings every week. Now we sell 12-14,000 pounds per week."
Humble and always behind the scenes, Ron Duff never looked for fame or fortune. He just cared passionately about his customers and took extreme pride in putting out a quality product.
"My father’s unrelenting focus on quality was one of the things that set him apart from the competition," says Joe. "Duff’s wings had to be fresh, never frozen, and they are still that way. The celery needed to be big and crunchy and the bleu cheese had to be just right in terms of chunkiness, creaminess and acidity (his mother’s recipe)."
Along the way, Duff's also saw it's name modified. Today, with multiple locations around the country, and franchise opportunities available, the restaurant's new moniker is Duff's Famous Wings. And if you want to talk history with native Buffalo old timers these days, they'll tell you that Ron Duff perfected what Anchor Bar started.
* Ron and Joe Duff, and co-owners Jeff and Kirk Feather were officially inducted into the National Buffalo Wing Hall of Flame in 2017.
Rest in peace, Mr Duff. Your contribution to the world will always be cherished. And we're confident that a whole bunch of angels just got their wings.
Tommy Wyatt is co-founder of Wingaddicts and author of “Under the Wingfluence” for Wingaddicts.com.
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