(WXYZ) — Detroit Wing Company is a bustling wing business with more than 20 locations across Michigan and more slated to open in other states.
It's a place that's known for, well if you haven't guessed it by now, mouthwatering wings.
"Every single sauce that we make, we make in house," said DWC founder and president Gus Malliaras.
But arguably the most meaningful item on the menu for Gus is actually — his dad’s chili.
"He loved making chili. I don't know exactly when it started ... it had something to do with Wendy's ... I know there was like a campaign where they were like, 'we make the best chili,' so he just decided to go to war with Wendy's," said Gus.
And what started as a fun competition, turned into a passion when Gus opened his first location in Eastpointe in 2015, and his dad’s chili made it on the menu.
"He just loved being here and making it and making people try it. And if you came here in the first couple of years, chances are he force fed you some chili at some point," laughed Gus.
Even when his dad, Peter, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019, chili is where he found comfort.
"It became kind of his ... I don't want to say his purpose, but it was like something to occupy his mind," he said.
And then came the conversation Gus was dreading.
"He would come to me and say, 'I got to teach you how to make the chili.' And he'd never, I mean, that was like his, nobody was learning how to make chili. And at the time, I didn't want to hear it, I was like: 'you're going to make the chili. I'm not going to learn. I refuse to learn, because you're going to continue making it and that's just what it is' ... and we had that little kind of argument every few weeks, and eventually he stopped asking," said Gus.
But Peter’s health took a fast turn for the worse, an in an instant he was gone.
"I remember sitting at his funeral and I was just kind of sitting in the corner and I remembered being like, 'oh my God, I never learned how to make the chili," said Gus.
The plan after returning to work was to explore other chilis to replace it on the menu, but it just didn’t sit right with Gus.
"It just kind of hit me, like 'what am I doing? If I told my dad I was replacing his chili with a frozen block of chili, I mean he would never have it,'" said Gus.
So Gus called in a longtime friend of Peter's — and they went to work to decode the chili mystery.
"We just kind of pieced together whatever receipts we had and kind of made up the ingredient list, and just sat back there for a few days and just, you know, added things little by little," said Gus.
Until the moment they knew they had it.
"Finally I was like, 'that's it. We did it.' I don't know how I figured it out ... I've said in the past, my dad was moving my hands, because I never made, even attempted to make chili, and somehow we were able to," said Gus.
Once a feared lost recipe is now a Detroit Wing Company staple and a family food heirloom that can be passed down for generations to come.
"I know that if he were here, like, he'd be proud of how the company has grown. But I think for me, I would be most proud of seeing his chili on the menu, being produced in 200 gallons at a time and shipped to the stores. And I think that's something that would have meant a lot to him," said Gus.
Throughout the month on November, proceeds from the sales of "Dad's Chili" at all DWC locations will go toward pancreatic cancer research.
To learn more about DWC,check them out here.