Just wing it at the Cold Spot
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Bill Smeedy sold a few wings, sandwiches and pizza when he opened a modest convenience store on the corner of Washington Street West and Seventh Avenue in 1974. A steady stream of building additions and menu expansions ever since established him as Charleston's go-to purveyor of wings with a loyal following.
"We were just a small square of building with about 800 square feet. Brick by brick, we've grown to nearly 8,000 square feet," he said. A glance to the right of the front door shows the original store. Straight ahead is the kitchen that Smeedy added. The dining room followed, then the bar with its more than 20 beers on tap. He added a deck. Then another and closed them both in. For now, a third deck remains uncovered.
His wings are regular chicken wings or boneless strips of chicken breasts tossed with one of his 11 homemade sauces and additional garlic, if requested. He insists on fresh chicken, and prefers wings on the smallish side so he can cook them at a high temperature quickly and cut the amount of oil that soaks into the wing.
Customers flock to the Cold Spot on Tuesday nights when regular wings are 35 cents each. He offers boneless wings for the same price on Wednesdays. Normal prices are 12 for $6.49 or about 55 cents a wing.
"Those are busy days. It's exciting to see so many people liking our food," he said. "We have really good salads, too." Smeedy says his favorite meal is his over-sized Greek and raspberry garden salads with chicken ($6.59) and an order of barbecue wings with garlic.
Many franchises featuring wings have moved into the area, but they haven't seemed to hurt Smeedy's business. There's nothing fancy about the wood-paneled dining room with rolls of paper towels on the tables and casual, friendly staff. Nobody pushes customers out the door to turn over a table. "We don't care how long you're here," he said.
At lunchtime, the tables fill with everyone from judges to office employees to construction workers and professional drivers. They all place their own orders.
"We don't have servers. You go up and place your own order and get your own beer at the bar," he said.
Smeedy, 61, is a Lebanese immigrant, who settled in West Virginia after a youthful stint in the Greek Navy. He traveled the world, but a visit to an uncle who lived in Logan convinced him to move there in 1970.
"I fell in love with West Virginia the first minute I was here," he said. "I'd been around the world several times, and I thought, 'This is my speed.' You can't get lost here like you can someplace like New York City or Hong Kong."
While he lived in Logan, he cooked on railcars for C&O railroad for several years before he looked for a job that would keep him closer to home and his young family. He spotted the convenience store located between Dunbar, North Charleston and Cross Lanes, and opened shop.
He sold wings from the start, but the market was not as vigorous then.
"They were just beginning to be popular when I started. There were only a few other people who sold them. Now, they're just like French fries. They're everywhere," he said.
His wings are special, he said, because he cooks them to order and tosses them in his homemade sauces. At first, he offered sweet and hot barbecue, mild, medium and hot sauces and later added honey mustard, sweet Asian and Agent Orange. "Agent Orange is sweet with extreme heat. You don't know what hit you until afterward," said his son Omar, who manages the Cold Spot with his father. Customers may request additional garlic in any sauce.
Wings fly out the door on Super Bowl Sundays, WVU football game and bowl days and Christmas Eve, which is his second-busiest day of the year. He declined to say exactly how many wings he sells for Super Bowl Sunday, but allowed that it was more than 100,000. "Way over," said Omar.
"Our wings are a Christmas Eve tradition for a lot of Charleston families. People are in town for the holidays. Everyone's cooking for Christmas dinner and they want wings the night before. It's a huge day," Bill said.
They keep coming back, he said, because his food is consistent. Either he or Omar, usually both of them, work in the kitchen.
His cooking methods might be tried and true, but there's nothing old-fashioned about his marketing. Smeedy embraces social media, and posts beer and wing specials to get the word out to his nearly 7,000 Facebook followers. He tweets as well.
He urges customers to place to-go orders online, especially on busy days, when the phones ring constantly and employees scramble to take down orders. "When we take that many orders on the phone, we're going to make mistakes," he said. "There are boneless, regular, 11 flavors. Too many options!"
Both the Greek salad and raspberry garden salad, which is topped with strawberries, bleu cheese and candied pecans, are $6. Add slices of marinated grilled or crispy chicken breasts or Gyro meat for 60 cents more.
Smeedy keeps his prices simple. Order a gyro, original or chicken, hamburger, cheeseburger, chicken breast sandwich, Philly cheese steak or chicken wrap for the same price -- $4.75.
Smeedy's homemade hummus, celery and carrot sticks, ranch and blue cheese dressing, wing sauce and feta are extra. "I used to give them with each order, but I was throwing so much of it away," he said.
After nearly 40 years in his edge-of-town location, Smeedy has no plans to leave. He hopes Omar, whom Smeedy calls a great cook and his second in command, will slip into his role someday.
"Charleston has been so good to me. I'm a lucky guy. Very blessed," he said.
The stars do seem to shine on him. He opened two other restaurants, one in Cross Lanes and another in Glen Jean, of all places. For 10 years, trade was slow at his off-the-beaten track Fayette County location.
"It's not a prestigious location. I had a lot of theft, but they couldn't run me off," he said.
Lately, traffic has picked up. The restaurant sits across the road from the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve, the massive Boy Scout park scheduled for completion in time for the 2013 Jamboree.
The Cold Spot, 4005 W. Washington St., is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 1 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Visit www.thecoldspot.com or call 304-343-9464.
Reach Julie Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1230.