Business & Entrepreneurship

The height of a pandemic might not sound like an ideal time to launch a new business, but Joe Dalton wasn’t worried. 

Developing plans that account for the unexpected was part of his education in the Emmanuel Master of Science in Management program, so he proceeded with long-held plans to open Joey D's Wingz 'n Thingz early in 2020. 

“Because I took time to draw up the business plan, when it came time to deal with COVID, we kind of had the answers in the playbook,” said Dalton. “Graduate studies was where I learned how to do that.”

A Marlborough native who now lives in Worcester, Dalton dreamed of owning a catering operation since culinary school. He spent several months drafting a business plan for Wingz ‘n Thingz in late 2019 and contracted to buy a food truck in February of 2020. When COVID hit the following month, the truck was put on hold and Dalton switched to catering out of a tent. A couple of months later, the state declared that breweries could be open to the public, provided they served food. Interest in hosting Dalton’s wing operation skyrocketed from there. 

“Suddenly we were in very high demand,” said Dalton. “It happened very quickly.” 

The mainstay of Dalton’s operation is the unique and popular chicken wings, which are prepared in the French sous vide style. Combining vacuum-sealed bags of precooked wings with precisely heated water baths, the technique produces restaurant quality wings with reduced wait time. 

Emmanuel Alum Joe Dalton and his food truck

Necessity was the mother of invention for Dalton’s unique wing recipe, back in 1995. He was first cook for the Digital Equipment Corporation and needed a third hors d'oeuvre for a major event. After some experimenting with sauces and spices, he hit on the right combination. 

“We opened at 11:30 and the wings were gone by noon,” said Dalton. “That was 10 pounds of wings, gone in a heartbeat. People liked them.”

The recipe soon became a mainstay for Dalton at parties and other events with friends. His journey toward making it a business was one of lengthy preparation, which included earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Emmanuel in 2004. He’d heard about the college from a neighbor, and found the small classes and chances to interact with the professors very much to his liking. 

“I loved the educators,” said Dalton. “All of the professors there were awesome.”

The wings remained a sidebar during the next phase of Dalton’s career, which included stints as a business technology instructor, career service advisor, and adjunct professor. He said the desire to try something new brought him back to Emmanuel to pursue a master’s degree in 2014.  

“I just wanted more than what I had for employment options at that point,” Dalton. “Returning was kind of a no-brainer. I had a great undergraduate experience.” 

Dalton described the graduate studies as a great opportunity for growth, with students given ample opportunity to show initiative and support available if needed. 

“We were given the capacity to succeed or fail and I think everyone succeeded because we were given the freedom to do that on our own,” said Dalton. “The graduate program was where we learned to solve problems before they came up.” 

These days Dalton is more focused on the growth of his business. It grew by 50 percent in the second year and 100 percent the year after that. The food truck is on the road, and the menu is expanding, with pulled pork nachos and Dalton’s favorite, the Burgerdilla—which is basically a burger inside a quesadilla, with vegetables. 

In addition to brewery dates, Dalton brings the truck to festivals and provides catering for events. He said the schedule is filling up for the coming year, adding it’s a good kind of busy. 

“It’s very satisfying, and I couldn’t do any of it without the support from my wife,” said Dalton. “We’re thrilled at the direction we’re going in.”

To learn more about Joey D’s Wingz ‘n Things, and for a schedule of upcoming events, visit their Facebook page.