18-year-old is no chicken

Bucket Wings Founder Will Gerstein flips chicken wings after their first round through the air fryer. He is operating the restaurant out of Town Square in Green Lake. Joe Schulz photo

by Joe Schulz

Will Gerstein always has been something of an entrepreneur, from spending the last five summers selling ice cream to starting an online graphic design company two years ago.

At 18 years old, the California native’s most recent venture is Bucket Wings, a chicken wing restaurant in the heart of Green Lake.

“I’ve always felt that Green Lake needed a chicken wing restaurant because it’s such good lake food,” Gerstein said. “For me, when I think of lake food, I think of some chicken wings.”

Bucket Wings opened Friday, June 5, offering up to 10 flavors of air-fried chicken wings and freshly baked cookies.

The eatery will be open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with a break before reopening from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Gerstein noted hours are subject to change as he assesses business.

Customers may order online at www.bucketwingsgl.com or call 920-290-8208. Orders can be picked up either next to Town Square Tap or delivered to the Dartford Marina. Orders to the marina must be completed over the phone.

Bucket Wings has partnered with Town Square Tap to offer dine-in service, as customers can order wings from the taproom.

“It’s not something I planned for, but it’s something I’m really excited about,” Gerstein said. “Our ideas really line up, we’re going to make a great partnership and we’re going to benefit each other mutually.”

The idea for Bucket Wings originated in March, when Gerstein was looking at food options in the area and found a chicken wing void.

Because the remainder of his senior year of high school had moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gerstein had extra time on his hands. So he began developing his own chicken wing restaurant that would be open for his 15th summer in Green Lake.

Will gerstein TOSSES some of his Bucket Wings in the air. The 18-year-old, who opened a chicken wing business earlier this month at Town Square Community Center, offers 10 sauces to choose from. For more information, see “18-year-old is no chicken” on page 4.  J.P. Steiner photo

“The fact that I didn’t have to be in school definitely helped birth this company because I was on calls with people from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Monday through Friday,” he said.

On top of making phone calls, Gerstein applied for a business license and took online classes to get his food safety certification. Then he spent about a month and a half taste-testing hundreds of different sauces.

As he worked to narrow the sauce selection down to his 10 favorites, he began looking for a kitchen space to operate out of, immediately thinking of the commercial kitchen inside Town Square.

Gerstein had a prior relationship with Town Square from performing magic at the farmers market for the last three years, so he reached out and the non-profit allowed him to develop his business out of the commercial kitchen.

“Having the amazing kitchen available cut out a huge amount of the overhead,” he said. “Honestly, without the kitchen, I would not have been able to start this company.”

After gaining access to the kitchen, Gerstein invested in air fryers and began working on perfecting his jumbo chicken wings.

“I had to develop a repeatable process to make sure every chicken wing was the same,” Gerstein said. “A lot of people don’t understand how hard it is to come up with the correct routine.”

By the end of May, he perfected the process and Bucket Wings was finally ready to open.

Gerstein’s family helped him run the business during its opening weekend. Moving forward, he has hired a group of local teenagers that he grew up with.

“I’m really excited because there’s nobody I’d rather work with than my friends,” he said.

Now that the business is open, Gerstein is excited to serve the community and build relationships with other businesses.

“The [Green Lake Area] Chamber of Commerce has been extremely supportive, and I’ve been really welcomed to the community as a business,” Gerstein said.

When orders began coming in on opening day, Gerstein described it as “one of the greatest feelings” he’s ever had. He’s especially thrilled to be launching the restaurant in Green Lake.

“Being able to do it in Green Lake, which I love so much, is exactly what I would’ve wanted for my first business,” he said. “I underestimated how hard it is to start a business and I’m really happy that I’m going through this at such a young age because it’s going to help me in the future.”

The restaurant will be open for the rest of the summer. Gerstein plans to close the eatery in the fall when he goes off to college at the University of North Carolina, where he plans to continue following his entrepreneurial passion by studying business finance.

Gerstein is unsure if he will hand the business off to someone else in the fall, but said, “it is completely in the realm of possibility.”

If he does hand the business to someone else, he added it would most likely be someone around his age.

For Gerstein, getting Bucket Wings off the ground has been rewarding and he hopes the business becomes a welcome addition to Green Lake’s food scene.

“Everything lined up; if something hadn’t lined up, we probably wouldn’t have been here,” he said. “I’m fortunate, and I’m very happy that everything came together, and I’m excited to get started.”