You don’t often hear the words “chickens” and “rebels” in the same breath, but Brian Coan of Buffalo Wild Wings made it clear those words actually have been linked throughout history. A fascinating cast of characters has broken the “chicken mold” over the years.
- It started with the late, great Harland Sanders, the man who started the now ubiquitous Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) when he was 65 years old. “All he had was a social security check and a recipe,” Coan said.
- Next was Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, who launched the business in 1946 and in 1967 invented the chicken sandwich. “Our industry has been full of rebels,” Coan said.
- Then came the breakthrough that paved the way for Coan’s employer, Buffalo Wild Wings: the birth of the chicken wing through cook Teressa Bellissimo of Buffalo, New York. Her distributor delivered a box of chicken wings instead of necks, which is what she used to make her marinara sauce at her and her husband’s restaurant. With “barfly” friends of her son sitting at the bar, she decided to feed them the odd delivery. She dropped the wings in a fryer, doused them in hot sauce and garnished them with leftover celery and blue cheese she had on hand, and history was made.
- Fast forward 18 years, and the founders of Buffalo Wild Wings couldn’t find any chicken wings they liked, so they asked themselves, “Why not do this ourselves?” Though neither had restaurant experience and one had even received a D-minus on a paper he wrote about wanting to open a chicken restaurant, they pressed on. Today Buffalo Wild Wings has 10,866 locations in 50 states and is now expanding globally, starting with the Philippines, and soon starting up in Saudi Arabia and Dubai.
So, what’s next? “We want to be more than just a chicken wing restaurant. We want to be a gathering place,” Coan said. With 1.25 billion chicken wings served on Super Bowl Sunday alone, it seems there wouldn’t be too much trouble achieving that objective. Coan encouraged the audience to be rebels and rule breakers and to follow their dreams, whether they are in the chicken business or elsewhere.
“What would we have done if Harland Sanders at 65 said, ‘I’m too old?’” he asked. “We all need to look at ourselves. . . . What idea are we sitting on that could be revolutionary? That could be a game changer?”