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12 Sauced-Up Facts About Buffalo Wild Wings

What began, appropriately, with two wing-obsessed dudes back in 1982 has become a global empire. Buffalo Wild Wings, with its sliding scale of sauces and more screens per location than NASA Mission Control, has over 1,000 restaurants in the U.S. and a growing number abroad delivering the oh-so-American gift of sauce-slathered chicken parts. B-Dubs, as it’s affectionately known, is truly a modern-day success story. Here for your consumption is a bucket of piping-hot facts—blue cheese dressing and carrot sticks not included.

1. It all started in…Ohio.

Buffalo wings may have originated in New York state, but it was in the nation’s heartland that Buffalo Wild Wings took flight. Two Buffalo natives living in Columbus, Jim Disbrow and Scott Lowery, missed their beloved hometown wings and couldn’t find a restaurant that served them. So they built their own.

2. It was originally called “Buffalo Wild Wings and Weck.”

This is the source of the company’s still-popular nickname, BW3. But what the heck is a weck? If you’re from western New York, you likely know the answer: It’s a thin-sliced roast beef sandwich served with horseradish and au jus, and named for the roll (kummelweck) that holds it all together. Apparently it’s delicious, but wasn’t popular enough to keep on the menu.

3. One of the co-founders was huge in the figure skating world.

Buffalo wings made Jim Disbrow rich, but his true passion was figure skating. He won national medals competing in his teenage years, was named an alternate for the 1968 U.S. Olympic team, and eventually became a renowned coach and judge. He was also chairman of the U.S. Figure Skating Association’s International Committee during the Kerrigan-Harding dust-up, and served as the association’s president from 1998 to 2000.  

4. The TVs originally played music videos.

These days the chain is all about sports, sports and more sports. But back in the day, you could down a platter of hot wings while watching Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf.”

5. It grew by placing its restaurants near college campuses.

Seems like a no brainer, right? The company smartly figured that college students would go wild for cheap wings by the bucketful. It placed stores near campuses throughout the Midwest, then expanded its appeal to include families and wing nuts everywhere.

6. They have a gallery of retired sauces.

Not every sauce that the company’s mad scientists cook up has staying power. Cast-offs include everything from the probably-too-sweet (Salted Caramel BBQ) to the probably-too-spicy (Wicked Wasabi) to the definitely-too-spicy (Ghost Pepper).

7. They thrived during the recession.

Two words: Cheap entertainment. While the rest of the industry hemorrhaged money, Buffalo Wild Wings actually turned a profit by marketing itself as the place to watch the big game.

8. They sell nearly two billion wings every year.

That’s more than one billion boneless and 768 million traditional wings. During this year’s March Madness, their marquee event, they sold more than 100 million.

9. Now, you can order your 'Asian Zing' Wings in Asia.

In addition to doubling its store count since 2008, the company has taken buffalo wings abroad. There are locations in Mexico and Dubai, and this year B-Dubs launched in the Philippines.

10. Their current CEO kind of fell into the job.

Back in 1996, the company hired a new CEO to run its then 30-restaurant outfit. The guy failed to show up on his first day, so one of the directors turned to CFO Sally Smith and said: “I guess you’re going to have to do it.” More than twenty years later, she’s still at the helm.

11. There’s a Blazin’ Wings Challenge

If you’re not afraid of a little heat and absolutely covet free T-shirts, you can take the Blazin’ Challenge, which involves eating 12 of the company’s hottest wings in under 6 minutes. The rules include no drinks, no dipping sauces, and no puking. And no crying. There's no crying in wing eating.

12. They’re hiring people to change the channels.

In addition to turning on the big game, the “guest experience captains,” which the company began hiring during this year’s March Madness, are also tasked with chatting up customers and promoting the brand.

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A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

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Ho, No: Christmas Trees Will Be Expensive and Scarce This Year
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The annual tradition of picking out the healthiest, densest, biggest tree that you can tie to your car’s roof and stuff in your living room won’t be quite the same this year. According to The New York Times, Christmas trees will be scarce in some parts of the country and markedly more expensive overall.

The reason? Not Krampus, Belsnickel, or Scrooge, but something even more miserly: the American economy. The current situation has roots in 2008, when families were buying fewer trees due to the recession. Because more trees stayed in the ground, tree farms planted fewer seeds that year. And since firs grow in cycles of 8 to 10 years, we’re now arriving at a point where that diminished supply is beginning to impact the tree industry.

New York Times reporter Tiffany Hsu reports that 2017’s healthier holiday spending habits are set to drive up the price of trees as consumers vie for the choicest cuts on the market. In 2008, trees were just under $40 on average. Now, they’re $75 or more.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get a nice tree at a decent price—just that some farms will run out of prime selections more quickly and you might have to settle for something a little less impressive than in years past. Tree industry experts also caution that the shortages could last through 2025.

[h/t New York Times]

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