If you’re a Gen Xer like me, you probably spent way too many college weekends or game days eating at a BW-3, or B-dubs, as we affectionately called it. This is where most Americans were introduced to the ingenious and now ubiquitous Buffalo wings. The delicacy was invented in 1964, at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, by Teresa Bellissimo.
It was invented out of necessity with Cincinnati-made Frank’s Tea and Spice Company’s Frank’s RedHot Sauce, founded by German-Jewish immigrants.
But if you’re also like me, you had no idea where the third “W” in BW-3 comes. Wild Wings takes care of the first two, but where’s the third W? To learn that we have to go back to its founding.
In 1982, three buddies Jim Disbrow, Scott Lowery, and Bernard Spencer, from Buffalo were living in Columbus, Ohio, and decided to open a restaurant to supply their favorite tailgate food – Buffalo wings – which was not yet available in the Buckeye State. Not being marketing geniuses, they first named their restaurant Buffalo Wild Wings & Weck. And, because THAT name is so memorable, they shortened it to BW-3. It was a good decision because in 35 years there are now over 1200 locations around the U.S. So there’s the third W, but what the heck, is a weck?
Weck, as it turns out is shorthand for another Buffalo favorite, the beef on weck sandwich. Weck refers to the bread its served on, another German immigrant invented bread, called Kummelweck or “caraway bun.” Weck is what the southwest Germans call their bun. In the north its called Brotchen, in Austria it’s called Semmel.
Legend has it that Wilhelm Wahr, a baker from the Black Forest, near Swabia in Germany, immigrated to Buffalo, New York, and brought his recipe for kummelweck to his bakery on Herman Street, which he operated from 1886-1924. In 1901, Wahr, as legend goes, convinced Delaware House owner, Jon Gohn, to use his signature kummelweck to serve as the bread in his thinly sliced, rare roast beef sandwiches, with fresh shaved horseradish and dipped in beef jus. The kicker for pub owner Jon Gohn was the flecks of kosher salt on the bread, which increased his beer sales at lunch time, when he served the beef on weck for free. Other bartenders caught on and the beef on weck became a staple at Buffalo and West New York bars and breweries.
But kummelweck is not something you will find in Swabia, so where did the recipe come from? In pagan Europe, people believed the souls of their dead rose from the grave one day a year to visit their familiar old haunts. It’s the Germanic version of Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Gifts of food were offered to these souls to ensure good luck in the upcoming year. After Christianity spread through Europe the Church tried to accommodate these long held pagan customs and created All Saint’s Day in late October to honor the dead.
Though the Catholic Church didn’t like the belief that the actual spirits of the dead wandered from house to house, some people continued to leave food offerings while others dressed up and played the role of the departed to collect these treats, just to be on the safe side. Thus began the tradition of Halloween. And the Germans love dressing up in masks and costumes – a la Halloween, Fasching, and Krampuslaufs. Each region had its own specialty for the occasion and in Swabia it was a long thin loaf – looking sort of like a coffin or corpse – covered with salt and caraway seeds. It is known as Schwäbische Seele, which translates from German as “Swabian soul” bread. Centuries later and thousands of miles away, this Swabian Halloween treat would be shrunk into a weck or bun and cast in an entirely different role by Herr Wahr.
Swabian soul bread with caraway and sea salt.
An interesting local German immigrant Halloween custom is reminiscent of this soul bread custom in Swabia. Up into the 1960s in historically German immigrant neighborhoods of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, kids would say “Kickele, Kickele” instead of Trick-or-treat at Halloween when going door to door. Originally this was a request for the kickele, a sugary type of fried donut from Germany.
Locally, you can try a beef on weck sandwich at Kelly’s Public House in the first floor of the Radison Hotel in Covington, Kentucky.