Can Buffalo Chicken Save the City that Bears its Name?

You’ve probably tasted it. You may have even liked it. And if you did, you weren’t alone. But as Buffalo Chicken becomes one of America’s favorite snacks, the city for which it was named has been experiencing dire economic times. Can a troubled region slow to see any traction from the government’s fiscal stimulus harness the awesome power of Buffalo chicken wings?

According to research specialists Datamonitor, 2008 saw a record 47 new products featuring the term “Buffalo” hit the nation’s supermarkets. With an additional 28 more Buffalo items hitting supermarket shelves in the first nine and a half months of 2009, the Buffalo chicken revolution has been dominating America’s diet. In that time, a number of food companies, including Wendy’s, Kraft, Campbell’s, and Proctor and Gamble, have rushed to add Buffalo chicken items to their menu. Subway has even managed to introduce a healthier Buffalo chicken alternative with their Low Fat Buffalo Chicken Sandwich. And to think it all started with an experimental kitchen in Western New York.

But in the city that first unleashed Buffalo chicken on the world, locals have experienced almost-unprecedented levels of economic hardship over the last two decades. According to the state Labor Department, the Western New York region surrounding Buffalo lost 16,800 jobs between September, 2008 and September, 2009 while the local unemployment rate of 8.3% is the highest the area has seen since 1990. Western New York social services agencies, food banks, and referral services have seen a hard upswing in demand, all of which has been compounded by local complaints that the federal stimulus program that was supposed to generate jobs nationwide had only created 231 jobs in the Buffalo metro area as of the end of September. Can Buffalo chicken help provide the spark the city is looking for?

The idea isn’t necessarily far fetched. First established in 2002, the National Buffalo Wing Festival has hosted 407,000 people, seen 2.4 million wings consumed, and contributed $125,000 to charity. While the festival has become one of the city’s top tourist attractions, the local man who started it, self-proclaimed Wing King Drew Cerza has been featured everywhere from the Today Show to an ad campaign for Pizza Hut.

Now that Subway has introduced a healthy alternative to the Buffalo chicken revolution, hopefully the city that named it can reap some of the rewards.

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