New activities at Wing Fest not the only things to do downtown, thanks to city's growth

Aug 23, 2017

Thousands of pounds of chicken wings and thousands of hungry visitors will be on their way to downtown Buffalo this Labor Day weekend for the National Buffalo Wing Festival. Festival founder and well-known “Wing King” Drew Cerza says there will be plenty of new attractions at the fest, thanks to the growth of downtown Buffalo.

It’s the sweet or, perhaps, spicy 16th year for the National Buffalo Wing Festival, and the success of wing fest has been growing each year.

“We’ve been featured on so many national shows on the food network and travel channel,” said Cerza. “And with the world-wide-web, the message gets out there. And they’ve really turned a lot of people into foodies. So you’ve got food bloggers, and everybody is an expert when it comes to wings, and what a better way to experience it than the ‘Super Bowl of wings’ right here in Buffalo, New York.”

National Buffalo Wing Festival Founder and "Wing King" Drew Cerza poses under his beloved arch with the food that started it all.
Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

Cerza parallels the festival’s growth with the development of downtown Buffalo. When the festival started in 2002, he used to have to tell visitors looking for some post-wing entertainment to make their way to Niagara Falls.

“There was nobody downtown. I mean, not a soul. You couldn’t see anybody, get a cab, get a bite to eat,” recalled Cerza.

Now, when the visitors leave, he points them towards the waterfront. It’s become one of his favorite parts of the event.

“Seeing smiling faces and people enjoying Buffalo, and experiencing the other parts of Buffalo. Canalside and other parts of our cultural tourism is fantastic, and the wings are kind of like our hook,” Cerza said.

Lunchtime visitors to Niagara Square get a preview of the wings that will be available at this year's National Buffalo Wing Festival.
Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

This year, over 70,000 visitors are expected to get their fingers sticky, joining the more than 900,000 who have already come from all over the world. For years, Visit Buffalo Niagara has been helping the festival track specifically where they come from, including last year when it reached a milestone.

“We had people from all 50 states, 35 different countries, and I’m really truly pleased to announce that we had someone from every continent around the world,
 said Visit Buffalo Niagara President Patrick Kaler. “We actually had someone who spent time in Antarctica as a scientist, and they were here for the chicken wing festival last year.”

Cerza said snagging an Antarctic visitor has been a goal of his for almost four years.

The crew from Scallywags in Derby, NY offers up some of their unique wing flavors like Gator and Candy Apple.
Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

Festival-goers will get to experience some of the now-traditional activities like wing eating contests, cook-offs, and ‘bobbing for wings’ in blue cheese dressing. But this year, new additions include a Saturday night concert with Buffalo-born country music singer Eric Van Houten.

In addition to the return of the Chicken Wing 5K, there will be another opportunity to burn off tasty calories with the return of the Buffalo Ninja Challenge. Last year’s completion, modeled off NBC’s American Ninja Warrior TV series, was open to contestants from across the country. The event turned out to be a hit with visitors on the sidelines.

“They said, ‘Hey look it, it was great to watch, but we ourselves want to run the course,’” said Patrick Hall of Lancaster’s Hybrid Ninja Academy. Hall, himself, was a competitor during season five of America Ninja Warrior.

“It’s a family show. It’s gotten incredibly popular with all ages. So we wanted to, this year, lend the course to the general public and give people a shot.”

For five dollars per person, two courses – one for kids, one for adults – will be open to all visitors. Hall said it takes more than the week or so left before the festival to fully prepare for the course, but recommends people show up and just have fun anyway.

More information is available at BuffaloWing.com.