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December 2004

Drew Cerza - He Gets Things Done

by Joseph RADDER

Three years ago, there was a movie called “Osmosis Jones”. In it, Bill Murray played a fast food addict who went to a Chicken Wing Festival in Buffalo  Of course, that was the product of the screen writer’s imagination. There was no such thing as a Buffalo Wing Festival at that time.  Don Esmonde wrote an article about it for the Buffalo News. “I saw that article on a Friday,” Cerza remembered, “put a plan together over the weekend, called Esmonde on Monday, showed him what I was going to do (to bring the idea to life). He wrote a second article that week. That’s how the Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival was born.

“The TV networks picked up on it. So I was really locked into doing it.” After all, why not celebrate Buffalo as the birthplace of the Chicken Wing with a nationally-publicized festival? As a food promotion specialist it was perfect for Drew Cerza. Did he worry about failure?  “If you try something and it doesn’t work, that’s not a failure,” he believes. “A failure is not trying.”

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Drew age 1. Drew’s parents Pauline and Andy Cerza.
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Colleen, Kathy, Paul and Drew. Back row: Colleen, Pauline, Andy and Kathy.
Front row: Paul and Drew.
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Drew played college basketball at Bryant & Stratton where he received his Associates Degree in Marketing. Drew receiving his BS Degree in Business at D’Youville college from Sister Denise Roche.

Drew Cerza is the president and founder of the RMI Promotions Group, a national food promotion agency located in Clarence, NY. Founded in 1994, the company has represented national clients such as Hershey’s, General Mills, Prince Pasta, Northland Cranberry, and many more. The company has also created several of its own co-op marketing promotions to support local causes.

 Another example of his positive attitude is the time he attended a meeting of civic leaders to discuss the New Years’ Eve ball drop at Roosevelt Square. It seems the previous years’ sponsor of the event wasbowing out. After some discussion, it was agreed that there was no way the ball drop could be continued. The TV reporters waiting outside the door would have to be told the bad news. Then Drew Cerza spoke up.  “I’ll do it!” he said in his usual self-confident way. And in spite of skeptical looks from some in the room, the TV people were called in and given the good news. The ball drop would, indeed, continue that New Years’ Eve.

 Within the hour, Drew Cerza   was on the phone  and had the needed $45,000 in hand within a week.

Since then, people have learned that if you want to get something done, ask Drew Cerza to do it.

 He has had this positive outlook all of his life. “I found out early that if you want to learn to swim, you have to jump into the water.”    He is truly the risk-taker’s risk-taker.

Sometimes he himself wonders if he hasn’t bitten off more than he can chew, like the morning of the  first  Chicken Wing Festival in 2002.  He had obtained Dunn Tire Park for the event and ordered a semi-trailer load of 400,000 wings. There was just one catch. The Bisons were playing in the stadium the night before and had scheduled a fireworks display after the game. It was after midnight before  his crew could start setting up for the festival. “When the sun was coming up, I looked around and realized there was no way we could be ready by the time people started arriving at noon. I was actually in tears,” he remembered. It was then that his wife Jodi stepped in. “She gave me the greatest pep talk of my life.”  It was the inspiration he needed to get his crew fired up to finish the job. And indeed they were ready and waiting when the first people poured through the stadium gates. As it turned out, 40,000 would visit the first Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival during the two-day event.

The figure of 400,000 wings came off the top of Drew Cerza’s head when Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today Show asked him how many wings would be consumed. 400,000 turned out to be a very well-educated guess.

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Drew and Jodi’s wedding day - December 13, 1993. Drew and Jodi dancing at Boy's Town of Italy Ball 2001.
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Jodi, Drew, Sydney and Nicole. Drew, Nicole, Sydney and Jodi.
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Daughters Nicole and Sydney carry on their dad’s love for the chicken wing.

The Chicken Wing Festival has been so successful that he’s seriously considering changing the focus of his company, RMI Promotions Group, from promotions tying-in food manufacturers and supermarkets, to festivals in key cities. For example, they could have a Hamburger Festival in Akron Ohio, home of the two brothers who invented the hamburger at the Erie County Fair.  There could be a Philly Steak Festival in Philadelphia,  a Crab Cake Festival in Baltimore, a Chicken Gumbo Festival in New Orleans, a Seafood Festival in Boston.

Up to now, RMI Promotions has concentrated on food promotions with proceeds earmarked for worthy charitable causes like Shop to Stop Drugs, a supermarket promotion which raised over $300,000 in three years for drug prevention agencies in Michigan, New England, Cleveland, Rochester and Buffalo, and Check Out Hunger for four New York State Food Banks for four years. Locally, donations increased over 50% during his managing role. He also created a massive publicity campaign for the Food Bank of Western New York, creating public awareness that the Food Bank continues to benefit from. Then there was the Made at Home campaign, which promoted and encouraged consumers to purchase products made in western New York to help the local economy and retain jobs; and last but not least, the Race for the Cure (of breast cancer). “We do this all across the country,” he said.

Drew Cerza got started in this business through involvement in a number of local charities. His expertise was in food store marketing, so it was a natural for him to tie in food promotions with charitable fund-raising. Another of his very successful promotions involved Drew Bledsoe when he was still quarterback of the New England Patriots. Asked about it, he said  “I met Drew Bledsoe and his father, Mac, five years ago. I was looking for a good charity to tie my client, Prince Pasta into in New England. I ran across the ‘Parenting with Dignity’ program which, to my surprise, I learned, was run by Drew Bledsoe’s parents, with his strong  support and endorsement. What a great surprise when he got traded to Buffalo. I’ve been volunteering as the local director of the Drew Bledsoe Foundation ever since.”

Drew Cerza was born during a snowstorm on February 5, 1961 in the borough of Queens, New York City.

He was very young when his Dad accepted a position as a food executive for Twin Fair and they moved to Buffalo. His mother, Pauline McCabe was more than a housewife. Her volunteer work for causes like Kenmore Mercy Hospital was legendary.

His brother, Paul, is a heating and air conditioning specialist for the New York State Power Authority  in New York City. His sister, Kathy, is a senior manager with the New York State Health Department., and his sister Colleen is general manager at the Glen Oaks Country Club.

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Drew promoting the National Wing Festival on the Today Show with host Matt Lauer. Drew and Ivano Toscani “winging it” at the Anchor Bar.
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Drew has made many friends in the poultry industry. Mayor Masiello announces that a fundraising effort led by Drew raised over $45,000 and saved the New Year's Annual Downtown Ball Drop.

Drew Cerza and Jodi Barillari were married on December 13, 1993. They have two children, Nicole age 10 and Sydney age 6.

He attended St. John the Baptist Elementary School in Kenmore, St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute in Buffalo, and earned an Associates degree at Bryant & Stratton in 1982 and then a Bachelor’s degree at D’Youville College in 1984.                                                

During his school days he was a pizza delivery person and a bartender. The day after graduation from college he flew to New York to take a job with the J.P. Stevens Textile Company. After a year or so in New York he came back to Buffalo to work, first for Philip Morris as a sales rep, and then selling class rings for Josten’s. In the early ‘90s he got into the food business.

Drew Cerza’s list of leadership roles boggles the mind. It includes key positions in the United Way, the Erie County Council for the Prevention of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, the Grocery Manufacturers Representatives, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Goodwill Industries, the Food Bank of Western New York, and the Erie-Niagara Regional Partnership.

As one would expect he has received awards too numerous to list in our limited space To mention just two of many, he was named Citizen of the Year in 2003 by the Buffalo News, and he also received the Lou Billitier Award in 2003..

If every influential person in greater Buffalo had Drew Cerza’s positive outlook and his “let’s do it” attitude,  our problems would disappear quickly  His enthusiasm is contagious. Let’s hope it rubs off on more of our elected officials and business leaders.

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Drew Cerza and friend Drew Bledsoe. Drew announces the kick-off of the Buffalo Bills "Cans from Fans" promotion in 1999 to benefit the Food Bank of WNY.
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Drew receives the All America City Lou Billittier Award for outstanding civic leadership in Buffalo. Drew and Laura Zaephel of Uniland Development co-chaired a One Million Dollar Capital Campaign in 1998.

Joseph H. Radder, a frequent contributor to Living Prime Time, is author of a new book, Young Jesus, the Missing Years. For more information, phone 1-888-280-7715 or visit

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