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Wing man

Rob Sabo

Willie Davison is no stranger to special events in Reno. In 1986 Davison was part of a small group that founded Hot August Nights, which grew into the largest annual event in the Truckee Meadows.

Now he has similar hopes for the Great International Chicken Wing Society Cook-off.

Davison, who makes his living as an events producer, started the wing cook-off in 2002, and he hopes the three-day event someday will rival the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-off, which draws about 500,000

to Sparks each Labor Day weekend.

Last year’s wing cook-off on Virginia Street over the Fourth of July weekend drew more than 40,000 people who consumed 10,000 pounds of chicken wings. Davison expects about 45,000 people will attend the event in downtown Reno this year as local residents who can’t afford to travel look for events close to home. The first wing cook-off at the former Reno Hilton drew roughly 10,000 people.

Cost of producing the event was about $65,000 in 2007, but Davison figures an almost 20 percent increase this year, largely because of rising fees charged by local government.

“With the city and all the other things we have to do, the health department and police department, this year will probably be about $80,000,” he says.

Davison says his goal isn’t to profit from the event so much as grow it to include a wing cooker from every state. This year 12 restaurants entered the competition, and three-quarters of them are return participants.

“Everyone who participates generates more foot traffic,” he says. “It brings new people to their establishments.

“Word is getting out, and more people are coming,” Davison adds. “It’s good business for the casinos. The hotels are full, and people have something to do.”

Restaurant supplier Bake Mark provides wings and wing boats, fry oil, napkins and a refrigerated truck for the event. Cost for participants is $777.77 in honor of the seventh-annual event. For the entry fee, participants get a booth, cooker and other essentials for the festival.

Competitors will pay $1.90 to $2.10 a pound for the wings they’ll cook, Davison says, while prices charged by competitors to consumers range from $2 for a four-wing sampler, $5 to $7 for 12 wings and $7 to $9 for 18 wings.

Davison, the self-proclaimed “Wing King,” loves chicken wings one month while living in Las Vegas, he downed more than 500 orders of wings at the Elbow Room Bar.

“I would have them two times a day,” he says. “If I didn’t have them for lunch, I would have them for dinner, (or) I would have them for a late-night snack on my way home.”


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