The Dirty Buffalo is owned and operated by Western New York native and ODU alum Russell Gilbert and his wife Stephanie. Before moving to Virginia in 2005, the couple spent several years shoveling snow and chowing down on the City of Good Neighbors’ iconic fare. Upon arrival in the Hampton Roads area, Russ and Steph relished in the bright sunshine and friendly people, but they couldn’t find a restaurant where they could enjoy the authentic Buffalo-style chicken wings they’d grown accustomed to eating.
While Russ originally envisioned a full-service establishment involving a wide array of food and entertainment options, money was tight and they had to borrow from friends and family, in addition to small loans and credit cards to get started. They downsized their big dreams into more realistic expectations and The Dirty Buffalo was born. They started out as a small, quick-service restaurant with just four employees, two televisions, and 12 tables. Luckily, people really enjoyed the wings and the casual, unpretentious atmosphere where customers are treated like family kept people coming back for more…and more.
Thanks to amazing customers and several dedicated employees, a few years later, Russ finally got to create the full-service restaurant and bar he’d envisioned. In 2016, The Dirty Buffalo moved down the street from its original quick-service location to a building four times the size. Since then, the excitement has continued, with a second location on E. Little Creek and a feature on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives! Their newest location opened in Virginia Beach in late October.
Like most restaurants, they face many challenges. Staffing seems to be a constant. They offer higher pay scales than the industry average, medical and dental benefits, 401k and unlimited growth potential to keep dedicated employees. They also work to connect to the community in a multitude of ways. They work with organizations in the community to organize fundraisers and make donations. They have sponsored local sports teams including kickball leagues, a men’s softball team and a traveling teen soccer team.
They have been recognized for their efforts, winning three awards at the National Buffalo Wing Festival in Buffalo (1st place Creative BBQ – Cajun Buffalo, 1st Place Creative Sweet – Sweet Sriracha & Rookie of the Year) and also winning 2019 Small Business of the Year for Norfolk and Hampton Roads overall (the first restaurant to ever win this award).
Their advice to other entrepreneurs and business owners is, “Don’t give up on your dreams. Over prepare, over plan, align yourself with people who know the business, network, be a sponge and learn from your mistakes.” It’s advice that has helped The Dirty Buffalo grow from a small restaurant with four employees, to three locations and offering franchises in other locations. What’s the best part of owning your own business? “The pride in building something from the ground up, knowing that it’s your own. We hope to continue to grow our brand in the Tidewater area, while expanding our reach to other markets via franchising.”
Visit one of their three locations:
4213 East Little Creek Rd
Norfolk, Virginia 23518
2080 South Independence Blvd
Virginia Beach, Virginia 23453
4012 Colley Ave
Norfolk, Virginia 23508
or check out their website, thedirtybuffalo.com