Restauranteurs Jessica and Jason Kopelwitz open wing concept
A staple of quaint Athens is Fluff Bakery, home to many delicious sweets and treats. Its tagline, “Life Is Fun: Eat It Up” is an accurate representation. Owners Jessica and Jason Kopelwitz have created a restaurant that stands out among the rest in town, with its unique atmosphere that not many can resist. The Kopelwitz family also owns Rickshaw Thai, which they recently absorbed into Fluff, which now serves all meals of the day. Now anyone who is craving spicy and sweet can make one stop on Court Street to satisfy their taste buds. In addition to this change, they have also opened up a third restaurant in small, college-town – West Side Wingery.
West Side Wingery has a very different flavor from other restaurants in town, both in its design and food. According to Jessica, “It’s loud and there’s lots of graffiti. It’s kind of a hip-hop-esque atmosphere. Similar to Fluff in that it’s a unique atmosphere, but just a different vibe. It’s like Fluff’s bad side.” This kind of ambience is what the Kopelwitzs strive for. “Our mission is to create concepts that are really fun, unique, interesting and that fit with the community.” As for what to expect food-wise, customers will find a menu filled with delicious tacos, sandwiches and, most importantly, wings. Jason gathered a following for different wings he created at Rickshaw Thai, and when it was announced they were combining Rickshaw Thai and Fluff, many people were up in arms, questioning how they would get their delicious wings. Little did they know the wings were simply moving to a different home at West Side Wingery.
Many factors set the wings at West Side Wingery apart from other wing establishments, such as Wings Over or Buffalo Wild Wings. West Side Wingery sells whole wings (“so six of ours are equivalent to ten of theirs,” Jason said). They don’t separate the wings and limit how much the wings are processed, as well as marinating the wings and deep frying them in lard. “If you’re going to deep fry and you’ve already committed to eating chicken, lard is where it’s at. All our sauces are whipped up in house as well.” (You can look at West Side Wingery’s menu here).
The combination of Fluff and Rickshaw Thai has allowed for an interesting fusion of tastes. They currently do a mix of a Rickshaw Thai and Fluff dinner Tuesday through Sunday from 5-9 p.m. They have also acquired a liquor license and are continuing to create new cocktails to sell alongside their baked goods, sandwiches, and dinners.
Jessica explained that her husband, Jason, took the reigns on their new project. “Really, West Side Wingery has been mostly him,” Jessica said. “He has done most of the marketing, the training, the recipes, the cooking. That’s pretty much been all him.” West Side Wingery was not a result of careful or strategic forethought, but rather an effect of happenstance. “We weren’t really needing to open up another place at this point, but we had some ideas that we thought would work really well. Long story short, we just took a leap of faith and decided to sign a lease.”
That leap of faith has served them well so far as they continue to build West Side Wingery’s brand.
“This is going to be the perfect outlet for kind of doing a fun, creative atmosphere and some different menu items than we have here at Fluff,” Jessica said. As local business owners, they work for everything they have and they strive to give back to their community with all they do. The important thing, Jessica noted, was that people vote with their dollar. “When you support places like ours, not because it’s local, but because it’s good, that money stays here with people who give back to the community and work with the community. That’s huge. I can’t emphasize enough why those choices matter,” Jessica said. Although Athens is normally known as simply “a college town,” it is much more than that, and understanding this is how the Kopelwitzs keep their businesses afloat.
“We don’t just cater to college people. It’s not just to make money off college students; it’s to be part of our community. We appeal to young professionals, young parents, faculty, people who live here, farmers; we’re kind of an all-around place where people can assemble and find something that they love. People can relate, whether you’re 15 or whether you’re 70,” Jessica said. Luckily for the community of Athens, the Kopelwitzs work with numerous other establishments in town, proving that collaboration is key to good business strategy. They get buns and beer from Jackie O’s, make cookies for Bagel Street Deli and have recently started making pastries for the new wine bar, Athens Uncorked. In addition, West Side Wingery shares a simple camaraderie with West End Cider House, allowing people to get some food after they’ve had a drink or vice versa.
As a husband-wife team, the two feel pressure to create concepts that the community will take part in time after time. “We know that tastes change, trends change, and we’re trying to stay ahead of those tastes and trends and to have something unique to this community to keep people coming back,” Jessica said. As for students? “We’ve only even touched the surface of the university and the students,” Jessica said.
Will Fluff and West Side Wingery remain exclusive Athens staples? Maybe, but Jessica says there’s a possibility of expansion. “We’ve talked about it. It’s definitely a brand that could lend itself to be moved to a larger city,” Jessica said. That’s something to be on the lookout for, but for now, they will continue to be Athens-exclusive brands. The greatest thing she would like to get across to people is, “Just give us one try. The big thing is just give us a try and I guarantee people will not be disappointed.”