The Hot Wings Index

Buffalo Joes in Evanston, IL (Niala Boodhoo)

CHICAGO – I’ll be honest. I’m probably more of a fan of football food than the game itself. And, when I do watch the NFL, it’s hard to get away from my Miami Dolphin roots. Still, Bears fever is pretty infectious here in Chicago, so we thought at Changing Gears we’ld take a look at what kind of economic impact the game is having on local businesses in Chicago and Green Bay.

So, I took it upon myself to make this story about chicken wings. After all, a game day football menu isn’t complete without wings, right? So to see if local businesses are getting any jump from the playoff, I thought I’d create my own economic indicator – I’m calling it the Hot Wings Index.

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My first stop was to Buffalo Joe’s restaurant in Evanston. General Manager Dean Holden told me that as soon as the Chicago Bears beat the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday, calls for orders started coming in.

Buffalo Joe’s sells burgers and brats, but it’s biggest menu item is wings – by the pan.

Buffalo Joe's GM Dean Holden making a pan of spicy wings.

Holden usually plans on selling about 4,000 pounds of chicken wings each weekend. But given the pace of the playoffs, he’s upped it by 50 percent.

That means 6,000 pounds. Of Chicken Wings. And that’s just for this location – Buffalo Joe’s has two other resturants on Chicago’s North Side.

Holden says they have four flavors of wings.

“We usually do mild, spicy, and  suicide,” he said.

When I asked him if he were to describe what flavor business was right now, Holden didn’t hesitate:

“Suicide.”

Ok – so we’ve got suicide level in Chicago. I called up to The Bar at Holmgren Way in Green Bay to see how my Hot Wings Index is faring up there.

The Bar is about a block away from Lambeau Field where the Packers play. Joe Zehren, one of the owners, said business started picking up even during their typically slow time of Monday and Tuesday.

“There’s an extra kick in people’s step because of the awesome Packers victories,” said Zehren, who told me his son is a Packers fan. “Normally in the month of January we start to slow down, but this year, obviously with the Packers in the playoffs, as the week progresses, business picks up.”

The restaurant group has 5 other sports bar locations in Northeast Wisconsin, in Oshkosh, Appleton and Wausau.

Who doesn't love wings?

Wings are big at The Bar. They have 19 different flavors, and even a featured wing of the week (in case you’re wondering, it’s chipotle ranch). Zehren told me can tell how spicy the wings are by the color coded flames on their menu.

“It starts off a little bit red or yellow and then it goes to dark red for hot,” he said.

This is how Zehren rates business now:

“Red hot.”

Back in Chicago, Jerry Roper, the head of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce said everyone’s excited about the game – and the business it’s bringing.

“We actually get two extra playoff games out of this, which means a huge economic boom to us and our region” he said, echoing what Zehren in Green Bay said about January usually being a slow month.

Roper also pointed out that the 300 or so workers at Soldier Field are working overtime this year.

Still, academics like Costas Spirou pointed out that my Hot Wings Index isn’t exactly scientific.

“I think certain business will be better positioned, so for example if you’re in the business of selling apparel or in the case of certain restaurants, but if one is to look at the economy in a much broader context, the affect would be more questionable,” said Spirou, who is the author of It’s Hardly Sportin’: Stadium, Neighborhoods and the New Chicago.

Spirou’s actually a big football fan himself. He says he’s just as excited about Sunday’s game as everyone else. He’s a big fan of chicken wings – and the Bears.

In the meantime, do you have a favorite football food? What are you planning to eat for the big game? Please share below:

UPDATED: A previous audio version of this story incorrectly said “Northeast Washington” instead of “Northeast Wisconsin”. The error has been corrected.

2 Replies to “The Hot Wings Index”

  1. 1. The audio report incorrectly asserts that The Bar’s restaurant group has 5 other locations in Northeast Washington. This transcript correctly states Wisconsin. 2. The reporter should have placed the correct emphasis on words in the name “Green Bay”. 3. The first paragraph of this transcript has a typographical error: “…local businesses in Chicago and Green Day.”

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