On nice days, Heavenly Buffaloes offers sangria served on the porch. And at night, it’s open until 3 a.m.. Those within a 3-mile radius of the restaurant can order their food for delivery anytime until 15 minutes before closing.
Heavenly Buffaloes is located at 407 W Franklin St. Chapel Hill, NC 27516.
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Monday
11 a.m. to 12 a.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
11 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday; and 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday
When two couples obsessed with chicken wings teamed up in 2014, the result was the hot Durham hangout spot known as HeavBuff.
Dain Phelan and Mark Dundas partnered up and, with the help of their spouses Jennifer and Iara, opened Heavenly Buffaloes after a failed quest for quality local wings. The Chapel Hill location opened last April.
The team of four affectionately calls the original 300-square-foot Heavenly Buffaloes “the Shack.” A few months after it first opened in late 2014, customers from Chapel Hill began asking about expansion, which sparked the idea to open the Franklin Street location.
“We were summoned by the people,” Mark Dundas said.
Dain Phelan came up with the name Heavenly Buffaloes 25 to 30 years ago. Phelan has notebooks full of restaurant concepts, which he and Jennifer would sketch out together. He also owns Dain’s Place, a bar in Durham.
“You go to Dain’s Place, I have things on the wall I made in graphics arts class in sixth grade that say ‘Dain’s: The best food and dancing around,’” Phelan said. “All I’ve ever wanted to do was own a restaurant.”
All of the Heavenly Buffaloes’ chicken is never-frozen, cage-free, and antibiotic- and steroid-free. The sauces are small-batch and made from scratch.
“We go through gallons and gallons and gallons a day of that stuff,” Mark Dundas said.
The team spent nearly a year on recipe development.
“We would meet and say, ‘Today, we’re going to try the barbecues,’ and we would have five different honey barbecue sauces, five different chipotle sauces,” Dain Phelan said. “We’d eat them blindly, push away the ones we didn’t like as much, and just do it by trial and error. I mean, we ate so many chicken wings, it was unbelievable.”
Jennifer Phelan, the self-described “sauce lady”, made all the prototypes for the sauces. She crafted several versions of each type, perfecting them until the couples and their taste testers were satisfied.
The sauces at Heavenly Buffaloes include distinctive, international flavors, and the flavor combinations can get wild. Recommended combos include the “Tyler Perry” — Sweet Thai Coconut Chili mixed with Peri-Peri sauce — or Chipotle Barbecue sauce combined with garlic parmesan dry rub. The team is particularly proud of their signature bleu cheese dipping sauce, which went through a similar development process as the wing flavors.
The team worked to ensure their vegan and vegetarian options would be just as tasty, searching far and wide for a product that would work as a substitute. They settled on soy protein and cook it in a fryer that meat doesn’t touch.
“We heard from a lot of people who had experienced wanting to go out for wings and couldn’t because there wasn’t an option for their vegetarian family members or friends,” Iara Dundas said. “We also heard from former omnivores who would say, ‘One of the things I miss most is buffalo wings,’ because you couldn’t get meatless wings that are really comparable.”
The vegan and vegetarian options have grown extremely popular. The team knew that finding a product with the right texture was important, and their work paid off: The vegan wings have been a huge hit among vegans and non-vegans alike.
“We don’t just want to feed the carnivores out here. We want to feed everyone and make everybody happy, and I think that’s something that’s important for all of us,” she said.
This inclusive atmosphere extends to those with allergies in the form of an allergy list. The team’s goal is to make everyone feel at home, and their favorite part of the experience is interacting with customers, whether they be basketball players or neighborhood families.
“It’s this amazing array,” Jennifer Phelan said. “One of my favorite parts of the business is just interacting with so many different people. It’s pretty awesome.”
Heavenly Buffaloes has always been a social place in Durham, and the team’s goal is to reflect that ethos in Chapel Hill, too.
“You go to the shack, the attitude you get from the people, the vibe you get from the people serving you, the music that’s being played, the customers that are there,” Mark Dundas said. “Some people actually go to Heavenly Buffaloes just to chill out, sit on the porch and have social interaction with other people.”
The team’s small-business mindset ensures a high-quality experience. Every day, one of the owners is there at the restaurant to personally attend to people’s needs. This hands-on approach helps them listen to their customers and assess how they can do better.
“I’m always thinking about what could I do next, what could I change,” Dundas said. “It’s just how we operate things.”
In the future, Heavenly Buffaloes will likely expand its delivery services and begin implementing table service to make the dining experience more welcoming. The counter will become strictly pickup and takeout. Behind the counter, staff is always happy to provide beer and wing pairing recommendations or flavorful sauce combos.
Game days are when Heavenly Buffaloes really heats up. With six large, flat-screen TV’s lining the walls, there’s a perfect view no matter where you sit, and they’re all set to the game during UNC ones.
“HeavBuff is part of Duke vernacular,” Mark Dundas said. “We want that to be part of UNC vernacular, too.”
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