Among other things, CSU’s athletic training program equips students to quickly assess emergencies, act with composure under pressure and be decisive. Corey Simmons, a 2010 graduate of the program, knew this going in. What he didn’t know was that he’d use those skills for something other than athletic training after graduating.
Simmons, a native of Columbia, had honest intentions of starting an athletic training career when he chose his major. But before graduation, while visiting home, he ran into childhood friend, Ramone Dickerson. They renewed their friendship and caught up on old times before Dickerson shared something with Simmons that would change his life forever.
Sucker Punch was a chicken wing loaded with bacon, cheese and jalapeños. Simmons recalls, “I had the same reaction everyone does. I couldn’t believe it.”
The stuffed wing is exactly what it sounds like: a chicken wing with simmering Southern foods stuffed inside. Some of Dickerson’s concoctions included a jambalaya wing, a mac and cheese wing, and a “Song of the South” wing that was filled with collard greens and rice. The wings were unmistakably massive – and delicious.
Before long Simmons and Dickerson started 2 Fat 2 Fly Wings and began setting up for events around Columbia. Simmons, who had yet to graduate, made treks from North Charleston to Columbia to help with the events. Many fell on weekends, but some came on weeknights. Simmons, who has never been afraid of an all-nighter, worked anyway.
He would work past midnight and drive back to Charleston before 5 a.m. athletic training duties began. If he was lucky, he would catch a few minutes of sleep on his aunt’s couch – his home for the last two years of school because money was tight.
After graduation Simmons put his Athletic Training career on hold, much to the chagrin of his parents, while he and Dickerson gave the business their full-time attention. With some help from friends and family they bought a secondhand food truck, nicknamed The Fonz, and began hustling the streets of Columbia for places to legally sell wings. They were the first food truck in town, so they were often shooed away by authorities for not having a permit, even though the peddler’s permits didn’t apply to their food truck. “They didn’t know how to handle us because we were the first of our kind,” says Simmons with a laugh.
The Fonz was featured on Eat St., a show on the Food Network, in 2012. Simmons and Dickerson, whose fun-loving and heart-on-their-sleeves personalities were perfect for television cameras, took advantage of the face time.
Their big break came in 2014 when they began filming an exclusive show for the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). After a successful promotion of the series on Steve Harvey’s talk show – to the tune of 11,000,000 views on Facebook – the wingmen knew the show would take them to another level. And it did; business from lunch spots in the truck more than quadrupled after the show aired.
But life in the food truck wasn’t always so glamorous. Simmons says it was the grueling schedule of college life and athletic training that prepared him to push through the missteps he and Dickerson endured early on. “I realized,” Simmons says, “that you have to have faith to succeed, faith in a higher power, faith in your own eventual success and faith in the people around you.”
Simmons, who spent most of his life in and around sports, knows what it takes to build a winning team. Dickerson says, “Corey’s dedication, work ethic and his fight to succeed,” set the standard for their crew. Joey Thompson and Sean Coleman committed to helping, “the minute we tasted the wings,” explains Thompson. In the beginning there was no money to pay Thompson and Coleman, so they volunteered.
Thompson and Coleman stuck with 2 Fat 2 Fly through 116 degree days in the food truck. Through exhausting nights in hotel rooms stuffing wings and alternating 20 minute naps on the floor. Through people offering $100 bills for a basket of wings because the truck was sold out. They were even present when Feb. 28, 2016, was named 2 Fat 2 Fly Day by the City of Columbia for all they had done for their hometown. Today, 2 Fat 2 Fly is seven team members strong.
Simmons’ athletic training knowledge came in handy when multiple team members came close to heat exhaustion on St. Patrick’s Day a few years back. “I tweeted my professors to thank them for my heat-related skills because I saved lives that day,” Simmons said with a grin. Although there would be a number of hoops to jump through, he says returning to his athletic training career is always a possibility. “But,” he says, “not anytime soon, I’m having too much fun!”
Simmons and Dickerson are quick to point out that they have failed almost as many times as they have succeeded. But they have learned from their losses and they have grown tremendously. More than anything, they have enjoyed chasing this jam-packed dream. “I would rather do this with Corey than with anyone else,” say Dickerson with a genuine smile. “Even if we hadn’t had the same success, we’ve had too many good times.”
Over a year has passed since 2 Fat 2 Fly appeared on Steve Harvey and eight episodes aired on OWN. After a short stint in Atlanta during filming, the team moved back home where they landed a restaurant across the street from Williams Brice Stadium, home of the Gamecocks.
The team stuffed wings and prepped the interior for 48 consecutive hours before game day on Sept. 12, 2015 – the restaurant’s grand opening. Customers have ebbed and flowed with the seasons, and the business took a major step back, as did most of Columbia’s economy, after the devastating floods of October 2015. But things have returned to normal, and 2 Fat 2 Fly experiences a steady current of customers on any given night. The original food truck, which gets chased by customers instead of law enforcement nowadays, sits in the parking lot like a low-hanging billboard to welcome patrons.
The ultimate goal for 2 Fat 2 Fly is to have their wings distributed nationally in grocery stores. For Simmons, personally, he says he’ll know he’s made it when he’s been asked to come back to give a commencement speech at CSU. Who knows? If he offers to cater, he might just have a deal.