Resembling a scientist on the verge of a big discovery, John Atari plans to incorporate a black curtain while making the sauce for a secret family buffalo wing sauce recipe when the Buffalo Wing University opens in Fairfax. It’s that big a secret.
"I’m the only one making the sauce," he said. "I have a thing called the 'black curtain.' I make the sauce behind the black curtain. If you go behind the black curtain, you get fired."
It’s a family secret that Atari brings with him from two family businesses in Loudoun County called Buffalo Wing Factories. The new restaurant is Atari’s first attempt on his own. Three factors weighed into his venture, he said — the popularity of Buffalo wings, incorporating a family restaurant atmosphere in with the bar-oriented delectable, and covering the four biggies in the menu world: grilled food, fried chicken, burgers and pizza.
"It’s [wings] the next big American food item," Atari said. "Fine dining is going down."
Atari has another secret with wings as well. "They’re never breaded," he said.
The proximity to George Mason University as well as Fairfax and Paul VI high schools is to his advantage as well. In February, though, the opening date misses the big seller in the Buffalo wing world, which is the football season. Atari will still have the rest of the pro basketball season, and then a whole summer to perfect things before next football season. At the Factory restaurants in Loudoun, Atari's family sold 6,000 pounds of Buffalo wings on Super Bowl Sunday in the past.
"Wings and football are very tightly knit," he said.
According to the zoning in the City of Fairfax, a restaurant is allowed in the Courthouse Shopping Center, so he didn’t need any special exceptions.
IN THE RESTAURANT blueprint, Buffalo Wing University will have a bar, tables in the front and a family section in the back, with some video games for children. Atari thinks that parents will bring their children to eat, and relax while the children play video games. A "no smoking" policy will cover the whole restaurant, but he does plan to have tables out front where smoking is allowed, with overhead heaters for the winter months.
Currently, the space is gutted while the contractor, Restaurant Design and Construction Inc. of Vienna, does the interior. The Bread Mill, next door, will be closing in December, and Atari will expand into that space as well on Jan. 15.
A City of Fairfax official noted that other restaurants have opened in that shopping center, so there was no need to rezone.
Hooters, which has a restaurant on Route 50 in Fairfax, is famous for its Buffalo wings as well. But Atari’s not worried about them. His biggest competition is Buffalo Wild Wings out of Ohio.
"People go to Hooters, not for the wings," Atari said.
Mike McNeil, vice president for marketing at Hooters, said that their Buffalo wings account for about 20 percent of the chain's food sales.
"Wings are certainly an important part of our business. People tell us we’ve got the best wings in the world," McNeil said.
Hooters has its own sauce and gets its wings specifically from Tyson’s chicken. Their wings are breaded, though, unlike those that Atari plans to make.
Glory Days in Fairfax also has Buffalo wings.
"We have a 'Wing Night,' and that's really popular," said John Cahill, Glory Days manager. Every Wednesday night is "Wing Night," with wings going for 30 cents apiece.
"Wings are always good anywhere," Cahill said. "It's a good appetizer. People can share it."