Buffalo wing victory is sweet for restaurateur

Friday, Sept. 17, 2010

Gaithersburg franchiser takes top prize in N.Y. festival 

Ira Levy had a pair of loyal customers follow him all the way to Buffalo, N.Y., to taste his award-winning wings.

Levy, who founded the first Buffalo Wings & Beer restaurant in Gaithersburg in 1995, this month won first place in the Creative Sweet category at the National Buffalo Wing Festival. Levy received the award for one of the sauces — Sweet & Tangy — he uses at his restaurants; the chain also has locations in Baltimore, Cloverly, Frederick, Glen Burnie, Eldersburg and Hagerstown. 

Another Buffalo Wings & Beer franchise is expected to open soon in Leesburg, Va., said Levy, who operates the Gaithersburg and Cloverly locations himself. 

Levy won a second-place prize in the same category at the 2009 festival, his second time taking part in the competition. 

"The third time is the charm," Levy said, adding his first year in the competition was "a major learning curve." 

"I didn't know what I was getting into," he said. "But it was a good learning experience and I know what I need to do and to bring to make people happy." 

Levy said one of his keys to victory was reconfiguring his sauces to make them gluten-free. He described this year's competition as "one of the best experiences of my life." 

Levy said The Great Recession "has been hard" on his business, while the smoking ban "was absolutely devastating." 

"We lost a lot of business," he said. 

Two factors have helped: different daily specials and the fact his franchise has not changed ownership. 

"There aren't many restaurants that have the same name or owner for 10 [to] 15 years," he said. 

Paul Hartgen, president of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said his organization is "very proud" of Buffalo Wings & Beer for winning the award and noted the passion Levy has for his restaurant. 

"These guys are listening to their consumers and adjusting their menu to fit what their consumers ask for," Hartgen said. chun