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Got a design for the Heavenly Buffaloes van? They’ll pay you in chicken wings.

Mark Dundas, left, and business partner, Dain Phelan in front of their brightly colored chicken wing restaurant Heavenly Buffaloes in 2014. A Chapel Hill location of Heavenly Buffaloes will open on Franklin Street April 5, 2018.
Mark Dundas, left, and business partner, Dain Phelan in front of their brightly colored chicken wing restaurant Heavenly Buffaloes in 2014. A Chapel Hill location of Heavenly Buffaloes will open on Franklin Street April 5, 2018. Chuck Liddy

The common currency of the United States is not chicken wings.

One cannot buy groceries with chicken wings, one cannot buy shoes with chicken wings, one cannot buy chicken wings with chicken wings.

Yet chicken wings, an entire year’s worth, are the prize for designing a new van for Heavenly Buffaloes.

The incredibly popular Durham wing shop, with a Chapel HIll restaurant on Franklin Street and a new location coming to Greensboro, is holding an art competition to paint its new van. The artist who creates the best design will win 25 wings per week for a year. The cash equivalent would be more than $1,300, before sales tax.

“I didn’t want a generic van driving down the highway,” said Heavenly Buffaloes co-owner Mark Dundas, who owns the company with Dain Phelan. “I wanted something oddball, off the wall, something you’d pay attention to and force you to take notice. Something along the lines of our buffalo logo with lasers shooting out of its eyes and farting rainbows. That was kind of my thinking.”

Though his own artistic vision was strong, Dundas said he wanted to open the design up to Heavenly Buffaloes’ community of fans. When the design competition was announced, Dundas said there was a brief backlash from artists arguing that the company was skirting paying artists by giving them chicken wings.

On Reddit, one commenter asked about the exchange rate of wings to U.S. dollars and another asked why not pay artists in cash. Others criticized a clause in the contest rules that Heavenly Buffaloes would own any submitted work, as it would contain the intellectual property of their logo. On Twitter, Heavenly Buffaloes clarified that while artists couldn’t use any designs elsewhere, they could include the work in their portfolios.

One defender on Reddit noted that anyone upset by the competition should simply not enter.

Dundas said he was surprised by the backlash, which he said quieted down online after three or four days.

“I wasn’t calling for professional graphic artists,” Dundas said. “My thinking was we’ve been in business for five and a half years, we wanted to call on our local community, people (ages) 8 to 80, to submit designs.”

Despite the negative online reaction, Dundas said the competition will continue. There have been no submissions so far, he said, but the contests runs to July 31. In hindsight, though, he’s not sure he would have held the competition if he had it to do over.

“It was all meant in good faith, but maybe it was our mistake,” Dundas said. “But it’s a voluntary thing. You’ll be recognized on the vehicle, we’ll give you all the notoriety.”

If you’re interested in submitted a design, Heavenly Buffaloes has contest rules and links on its website, heavenlybuffaloes.com/art-competition.

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Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, covering the food scene in the Triangle and North Carolina.
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