I saw a billboard advertising Wendy’s Asian Sweet & Spicy Chicken Wings. Checkers sells teriyaki wings. Pizza Hut has 30 flavors of wings with zing. When my dad transitioned from running full-service, full-menu Chinese restaurants, he invented a new fast-food business model based on the original and first “Honey-braised wings.” Back in the 1980s, wings were cheap and unwanted. He experimented and sold several versions over the years. The first ones were marinated, fried wings sold in Cumberland Mall in 1976. Then came others with different sauces, stir-fried with peppers and onions, lightly-breaded and finally, honey-braised. All of sauces were created pre-dating the buffalo wing craze, Wings Festival and ubiquitous Asian-styled fusion wings in restaurants, sports bars and food trucks.
Wings were on every combination platter:
Another favorite was our egg rolls. Made fresh by hand every day, served with sweet tea, of course. We had regular customers who ate lunch with us every week. I can still remember the sweet, savory and gingery aroma of fresh braised wings from the wok. Friends joked about them as “crack wings” because they were so addictive. Our restaurants were little eateries: with a steam table, limited menu and clean booths. Not gourmet.
I remember smelling like a big chicken wing after working all day in the restaurant. I hand-carried braised wings on the airplane during visits from college, and had everyone on the airplane sniffing and licking their lips in my direction. My mom referred to the old Chinese proverb, “Buddha jumped over the fence” when I craved braised wings as a vegetarian and how I would “jump the fence” to the meat side. I am eternally grateful to my father and his hard work. The success of these restaurants and working there helped me pay for college.
There’s a lot more competition these days and the recession was hard on the family business. There were many copycats with the exact same name and menu! The last two original China Cafeteria locations, 2910 Rainbow Drive, Decatur, across from S.Dekalb Mall and 4231 Snapfinger Woods Dr across from Wesley Chapel Home Depot were sold in 2017. My dad’s retired now but the popularity (and much higher prices) of wings, especially Asian fusion flavors, are a testament to his entrepreneurial vision and success as one of the earliest “chicken wing” pioneers!