It’s been a year and a half since the Columbia-based owners of 2 Fat 2 Fly, which made stuffed chicken wings so beloved they got a reality TV show, closed their restaurant and parked their food truck.
“They had the magic,” Columbia caterer Dupre Percival recalls, “and almost immediately, it was noticeable. I would pop in on them just so they’d see my face. All of a sudden they were gone.”
But can an idea like putting mac-and-cheese or jambalaya inside a chicken wing disappear for good?
Apparently not. Founders Ramone Dickerson and Corey Simmons are cooking up a new plan, but they have nothing ready to go just yet.
“A lot of people think that it’s dead,” Dickerson says. “It’s definitely not dead.”
2 Fat 2 Fly closed in January 2018 when Dickerson became the executive performance chef for the University of South Carolina athletic department. His friend and co-founder Corey Simmons is working with his sister on her T-shirt printing business.
Dickerson and Simmons were working at a Five Points bar in 2007, making their not-yet-famous stuffed wings for the rare customer who came in for food instead of drinks. They started their food truck business in 2010.
They gained popularity quicker than investors predicted. But they also had failures, like biting off more than they could chew for the South Carolina State Fair in 2011.
“On the first day of the fair, there was no mathematical way we could serve all the people we had in the time that we had,” Simmons admits.
They grew so popular that in early 2015 the Oprah Winfrey Network premiered a reality series following their food truck, and comedian Steve Harvey hosted them on his talk show.
But the stardom was short-lived.
Producers wanted to take the reality show on the road for a second season, but Simmons felt a need to stay connected to Columbia.
“People thought we just had it,” Simmons says. “But we were still struggling in the same ways we were struggling before we had the show.”
With no managers, agents or guidance other than Harvey’s encouragement, Dickerson and Simmons fell back onto the only support system they knew they had: their hometown.
After six weeks of filming the first season of 2 Fat 2 Fly, the owners decided they wanted to stay home and be in complete control their business. They returned to Columbia to open their restaurant.
“It was huge for us to come back,” Simmons recalls.
But local celebrity was just as overwhelming as national celebrity.
“The restaurant proved to be more of a beast than we thought it would be,” Simmons says.
Turning a profit on something so expensive to make was difficult because, like at the State Fair, demand would often outstrip their supply.
The restaurant opened in fall 2015 little more than a football field away from Williams-Brice Stadium. Football fans packed the restaurant on gamedays, as did attendees at festivals or farmer’s markets at the nearby State Fairgrounds.
“We were like, ‘Holy s#!t, what now?’” Dickerson offers. “I think for us to be on the stage that we were on, it was just so much.”
The owners would still take the truck out to festivals or markets, but it often stayed outside the restaurant.
They recall how people constantly threw out unwarranted suggestions for how 2 Fat 2 Fly should move forward. People would also ask Dickerson and Simmons to take the truck out to wherever they or their friends lived so they could benefit from the exposure.
And when the restaurant closed last year, people didn’t understand how the two men who had such a unique spot on a national stage just walk away.
“Corey and I were never 100 percent motivated by money. We never saw success as money, ever,” Dickerson explains. “The reason we did a brick-and-mortar [restaurant] in the first place was because everybody was like, ‘Y’all need to … blah.’”
Dickerson doesn’t know exactly when he’ll stuff chicken wings with collard greens and rice again, but he pledges it’ll happen. The truck is parked in a friend’s yard.
“What [food] truck has taken their place?” Percival observes. “None.”
“I think they’re an example of what might could be done in Columbia,” the caterer adds. “And it feels a little empty without them.”
While Dickerson doesn’t intend to leave USC, he says he has a hard time keeping still. Closing 2 Fat and removing the pressures surrounding it opened up space for him and his partner to explore new ideas. A different kind of operation is on the drawing board now, one with meals based on deeply personal moments in their lives.
“Just imagine like, ‘I remember one time my uncle got drunk and passed out on the couch, blah, blah, blah, and this is the first meal I made after that,” Dickerson says. “Maybe it’ll come with stuffed wings. So, there’ll be some aspect of 2 Fat in there somewhere.”
Gerard Lin, owner of The Wurst Wagen, another Columbia-based mobile eatery, befriended Dickerson and Simmons when they showed up at festivals together. He was surprised and happy to see the guys get the recognition they did because their idea was so unique.
“It was very iconic … a combination of comfort food and bar food,” Lin says. “Of course I miss the guys. But there shouldn’t be a pressure from the community. We should be able to make career changes.”
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