Inaugural WingFest draws crowds in Amsterdam

FestCityUSA hashtag part of themed events
Owen Ward, 13, of Gloversville, enjoys a chicken wing at Girard's in Amsterdam on Saturday.
Owen Ward, 13, of Gloversville, enjoys a chicken wing at Girard's in Amsterdam on Saturday.

AMSTERDAM — As customers lined up to try the “Jack Daniels Wings” at Parillo’s Armory Grill Saturday, the restaurant’s owner Jackie Parillo quizzed them about her competition.

“I want to know what’s out there!” Parillo said, her competitive juices flowing. 

On what could have been a gray, dreary, Easter weekend Saturday in the city of Amsterdam, was instead another hopping, festival contest event — this one the city’s first WingFest, a chicken wing contest organized by the city’s Tourism, Marketing and Recreation Department. 

Parillo’s Armory Grill was one of 17 venues offering a combined 20 different kinds of chicken wings as part of WingFest on Saturday.

Bragging rights are on the line, as every participant in WingFest was asked to cast a vote for three categories of wings: Best Wings in the City at a Restaurant; Most Unique Wings; and Hottest Wings. 

Jackie Parillo said she’d been asking her customers questions all day Saturday to see about her chances are of taking home best overall wing, and to see where they were from. She said she had customers from as far away as Cobleskill and Esperance. 

Parillo’s bartender Courtney Batty said the crowd was much stronger than a typical Saturday. 

“Oh yeah, this is way more,” she said.

Jackie Parillo explained her chicken wing strategy: “We went with our Jack Daniels sauce; we have a Jack Daniels steak dish, so we wanted to go with something just as popular,” Parillo said.

“So far, the word on the street is it’ll be between us and Mary Jane’s Market down the street, us two are competing against each other.” 

All of the voting for WingFest is being done online at using a QR code available on the event maps handed out at each of the venues. Voting is open until 11:59 p.m. Sunday night. Winners in the different categories won’t be announced until Monday. 

The event maps also included information about the new twitter handle for the city’s Tourism, Marketing and Recreation Department and the hashtag #FestCityUSA.

WingFest is one of a series of citywide events that Amsterdam’s Tourism, Marketing and Recreation Department has organized as part of its “FestCityUSA” strategy to raise Amsterdam’s profile as a destination for recreation in the greater Capital Region.

Amsterdam Recreation Director Robert Spagnola said WingFest is attempting to build on the success of the city’s St. Paddy’s Day Pub Fest, its SoupFest in January and the city’s New Year’s Eve Festival. Each of those events and WingFest took a citywide strategy of connecting participating venues with a theme across the entire city of Amsterdam, which includes its neighborhoods on the south side across the Mohawk River.

“We sat down in November to plan out 2019 events,” Spagnola said. “We were looking at a couple of holes in the calendar, January and April, and we came up with SoupFest and WingFest. It fit in perfectly with what we want to do. You always want to incorporate local businesses, bringing people to them to show people what they have,” he said.

Mayor Michael Villa has credited Spagnola’s department with increasing the number of citywide events from nine to 27 and routinely lists that as among the signature achievements of his administration. 

Michele Pawlik, who recently replaced Danielle Whelly as assistant director of recreation for the city, said public participation has dictated the approach her department has taken to marketing the city. 

“We saw how successful the St. Patrick’s Day event was the first time we did it in 2018, so we really wanted to get people out and about, instead of only on Bridge Street or Main Street. This gets people out to all over the city,” she said.

Pawlik was assisted Saturday by the city’s new recreation specialist Michele Jackson.

On the north side of the Mohawk River, Mayfield resident Chris Wittemeyer attended WingFest with his son Joseph. Wittemeyer said he went to the Rockton House first, where he enjoyed the three-for-a-dollar garlic parmesan chicken wings, and then went over to nearby printing company Sticker Mule, which had games, Doc Orloff’s Blues Elixir Band and free chicken wings.

He explained why he made the trip for WingFest: “It’s the first time Amsterdam is doing this. I used to live here, and I thought I’d come back and check it out,” he said.

Danielle Whelly, who left her job at the city to become the local marketing manager at Sticker Mule, said her company decided to hold a job fair the same day as WingFest to help bolster public awareness of what Sticker Mule does.

“We wanted to show our support for the city, and to help with our recruitment efforts. We’re hiring all of the time, and we wanted to get our name out there,” she said. “We’ve been in the community now for about ten years, and people still don’t know who we are, or what we’re doing, so we wanted to bring people into the facility. We are custom print company. We do stickers, decals, magnets, buttons, we’ve started to do coasters. We do a lot of things for different businesses. We have customers worldwide, in Italy, Europe.” 

Sticker Mule tracked attendance at their WingFest/job fair and by 3 p.m. the company had counted nearly 400 participants.  


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