It started as countless great (and not so great) college ideas do: With the “drunk munchies” in a fraternity house at 3 a.m. on a weekend night.
Now 32 years old, Fred Attia, 2009 University of New Hampshire (UNH) graduate frequently known as “Freddy,” worked at Durham Campus Convenience (referred to as “CampCo”) for a little over a year and a half during his four years in Durham between 2005 and 2009. It all began with Freddy regularly bringing back “tons of leftover fries and sandwiches to my frat at 3 or 4 in the morning because everyone was gonna have the drunk munchies,” as Freddy said. Then one night, his Phi Kappa Theta brother Greg Tsigounis specifically requested chicken tenders covered in buffalo sauce with sweet and sour on the side.
With the typical Styrofoam take-out bin containing one large section for food and two smaller sections for sauces, Freddy felt limited in the sauce selection he could provide Tsigounis (as Freddy prefers to have both ranch and bleu cheese accompanying his chicken, making a three-sauce offering an impossibility). Thus, Freddy decided to coat the chicken tenders in buffalo, sweet and sour sauce and a handful of different spices, leaving room to include both bleu cheese and ranch on the side, birthing what would soon become known as “The Freddy Special.”
From there on, the Freddy Special officially became, as Freddy says, “a thing.” Yet, that was only the beginning. At first it appeared to be a joke, with patrons placing an order only when Freddy was working. Then customers started requesting the saucy chicken bits even when he wasn’t working, spawning the inevitable: a spot on CampCo’s illustrious menu. What began as “an inside joke” to Phi Kappa Theta brothers, as 2009 UNH graduate Matt Divino called it, unpredictably emerged as the soul of Durham’s after-hour’s food scene.
“No one would ever have guessed it would snowball and become a staple of the UNH culture for years to come,” Divino said.
After years of Freddy Specials clogging the arteries of UNH students, Freddy, one day while vacationing at the Grand Canyon, checked his phone to find countless messages concerning his legendary concoction. These messages alerted him of an article published in The New Hampshire spotlighting Suhitkumar Patel, known simply as “Sammy,” the current owner of CampCo who took over the operation the summer of 2008 after Freddy had ended his tenure at the local business. In said article, published on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, written by former contributor Meghan Vogel, Sammy is cited staking his claim as the original creator of the Freddy Special, saying that Freddy was merely the first customer to try it.
“‘(Freddy) took the food over to Scorps and let everyone try a bite,’” Sammy said in the article, referring to Scorpion’s Bar and Grille on Main Street in Downtown Durham. “‘Then they all came in and said, ‘I want what Freddy got,’ so it stuck.’”
In a recent conversation with The New Hampshire, Sammy reiterated the same story he told Vogel in 2014. He explained that he began running CampCo in 2008, and that Freddy worked for him for “a couple of months.” One night during this period of time, Sammy says he was the one who put together the sauces, spices and chicken to make the Freddy Special, wherein Freddy tried it, loved it and brought it across the street to Scorpions Bar and Grill where “200 people” warmly received the soon-to-be-named recipe.
Sammy’s story made one thing clear: He and Freddy had two distinctly contrasting stories about the origin of a beloved campus favorite.
Following this conflicting narrative of the Freddy Special’s genesis, The New Hampshire worked through an online paper trail tracing different accounts of the Freddy Special, as well as speaking to over 10 sources in order to officially pin down this elusive piece of university lore.
“It’s not that I care about the credit at all,” Freddy said. “I have had people seriously tell me that I should get royalties for every Freddy Spesh sold to which I just laugh. At the end of the day, it’s a chicken I made for people to enjoy and it’s still here 13 years later. That’s what makes me happy. I do not need the credit, however, I think people who are interested should know the truth behind it.”
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Prior to Sammy’s ownership of CampCo, Mike Gill maintained the reigns of the locally-famed convenience store.
“No, that’s not true. Freddy made (the Freddy Special) in front of me. We owned that store, it was back in the mid-2000s, and we sold it to that guy (Sammy),” Gill replied when told about Sammy’s rendition of the story.
Gill explained that Freddy was an “interesting, creative person,” who created the dish on a whim one day while at work.
“Freddy made it one night, whatever, we didn’t think anything of it,” Gill said. “Next day, people came in and started asking for it, whatever, we didn’t think anything of it. And the next thing you know, we got so many orders of it on a regular basis. Like on Thursday we’d get phone calls, ‘I need five Freddy Specials delivered over here.’ It took off; it did wonders. So, we put it on the board, and the Freddy Special was created. Freddy was there with us through the whole process.”
Freddy corroborated Gill’s story, saying that he only worked under Gill, never Sammy. Freddy graduated from UNH in the spring of 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in family studies. Additionally, he stopped working at CampCo in the spring of 2008, a handful of months before Sammy took over the business, which, according to Sammy, was in August of 2008.
Ed Schwarz, a student at the Atlantic Culinary Academy in nearby Dover from 2006 to 2008 and member of the former off-campus fraternity Zeta Chi Beta, lived on campus from 2006 to 2009 and worked alongside Freddy at CampCo from the summer of 2007 to the summer of 2008. Schwarz also stated that Gill sold the business to Sammy in the summer of 2008, when both he and Freddy stopped working there. During their time together at CampCo, Schwarz and Freddy were the only two staff members not part of the Gill family, and would get through long late-night shifts in CampCo’s kitchen with lighthearted joking and culinary creativity.
“Freddy was and still is one of the most charismatic people I know, so he and I would be back behind the line and people would be asking for some chicken and Freddy would be like, ‘Yo, you should try the Freddy Special, EEERRUUUHHH,’ he’d make a funny noise” Schwarz said. “It was fun… just coming up with random things.”
Schwarz said that he and Freddy would often experiment with the limited ingredients in the kitchen to make the time pass. While a typical restaurant has about 75 ingredients on hand, according to Schwarz who would later go on to work at food distributor Sysco, CampCo’s kitchen only had 20 or 25 ingredients, which led to the invention of “new and crazy things,” as Schwarz said. Two of these creations included the celebrated Freddy Special, and Schwarz’s own “Crazy Chicken.”
The Crazy Chicken, which consists of chopped chicken tenders, bacon and melted cheese and still remains on CampCo’s menu to this day, didn’t turn out to be the campus-reverberating hit that the Freddy Special became. Yet, it was another fun recipe created during the duo’s time working at CampCo.
Schwarz also recalls the creation of the Freddy Special occurring exactly as Freddy stated. It was a request courtesy Tsigounis that ballooned to reach unexpected heights, which gained traction as the result of a little ingenuity from a pair of “stoner college kids.”
“The Freddy Special always had this giant lore and legend on UNH’s campus,” he said. “It’s so crazy to think that it just started from a couple of stoner frat brothers finishing a long night of feeding drunk kids munchies until 3 or 4 in the morning, and we were like, ‘What if we combine them, and then dip it in ranch.’”
Another CampCo employee, UNH 2013 graduate Aaron Klauber, worked at the Main Street convenience store several years after Schwarz and Freddy. He still remembers the Freddy Special’s inception and the imprint it left on Durham.
“(The Freddy Special) was a reason to drink, to have that late night CampCo experience, inebriated and indulging in that delicious chicken,” Klauber said. “Sammy was the owner (during Klauber’s time working at CampCo), and to my knowledge Freddy was the creator.”
Bridget Bohnson, a 2008 UNH graduate and sociology major, had much of the same to say about the origin of the Freddy Special. Bohnson lived in the apartments directly above CampCo from 2007 to 2008, often socializing with both Freddy and the Gill family.
“Originally, everyone just went to CampCo for slices of pizza; you know, you get out of the bar, you go get CampCo slices of pizza,” Bohnson said. “And then when Freddy started working there, he decided to come up with the amazing chicken combo… It became pretty popular with the after-bar crowd because it was just awesome and delicious. I think it was just a good combination of food that drunk kids wanted to eat.”
While the Freddy Special remains relevant 13 years later, it rose to prominence astonishingly quickly, as Bessem Bates, UNH Class of 2009, recalled.
“On social media, (the Freddy Special) was just everywhere,” Bates said. “I remember, it just caught on overnight, and he really made that place popular for that one thing. People would come in and they were crazy for that; it was definitely a sensation.”
This sensation preserved its flash-in-the-pan success following Freddy and Schwarz’s departures from CampCo. After Schwarz and Freddy left the small business around the same time in the spring and summer of 2008, Schwarz worked at Sysco where he would supply CampCo with food items during his one year working for the food distributor. Additionally, during this time, he and Freddy worked a handful of four-hour shifts at CampCo under Sammy’s ownership when he was low on staff, and would teach Sammy and the new workers the proper sauce proportions to make the Freddy Special.
“I would go over there and help them occasionally,” Schwarz said. “I didn’t work for them but I would go there and work under the table. It was myself and or Freddy who taught them how to combine those sauces together correctly, and at what ratios, to be able to make the Freddy Special.”
Over the course of two conversations with The New Hampshire, Sammy stayed adamant to his story that he was the original creator of the Freddy Special despite being informed of the conflicting narratives from various sources. Yet Sammy’s story has appeared to evolve with time; a 2013 article published in HerCampus finds Sammy telling a similar account to that of Freddy’s. “‘I named it after a brother in Theta who worked with me back in 2007,’” Sammy said in the Q&A. “‘His name was Freddy and he always made it for himself and it eventually caught on with others, so we decided to make it a thing. Now you guys can’t get enough of it.’”
Freddy and Schwarz both believe Sammy may be misremembering how the storied chicken dish first came to fruition.
“Sammy, as I remember him, was a really nice guy,” Schwarz said. “It’s been a long time since then. If anything, I can attribute that to confusion and lost memory. At least that’s what I hope.”
“(Sammy’s) definitely not misinformed,” Freddy said. “I’ve met him. I would say it was just him probably thinking that enough time had gone by that I was out of the picture that it was safe for him to fabricate something, not thinking about the fact that with the internet now, it doesn’t really matter where someone’s geographically located. That would just be my guess.
“I think he probably just thought he could take credit for it and it would be something cool. I don’t think it was meant to be malicious.”
Dr. Harrison G. Pope Jr. of Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital offered expert insight on the reality of false memories. “There’s a large scientific literature on the issue of false memories going back a hundred years,” Dr. Pope said. “All human beings form false memories. (We) have memories of things that we would swear were true, but what actually happened 20 or 10 years ago may be entirely different from our current memory of them.”
He also mentioned a famous study of the various recollections of O.J. Simpson’s trial. Investigators interviewed approximately 200 students about where they were and what they were doing at the time of the verdict. The investigators then asked for the subject’s memory of the verdict 15 months later, then again after 32 months had passed. “At the 15-month mark, 50 percent of the students gave recollections that the investigators said were highly accurate, but 11 percent of them had major distortions from what the investigators knew to be the truth from their contemporaneous,” Dr. Pope said. “By 32 months, only 29 percent of the students were rated as highly accurate and 40 percent of them had come to develop major errors or distortions about what they had been doing at the moment of hearing the verdict.”
Dr. Pope’s explanation of false memory proved that it’s a normal occurrence. “What it shows is that we as human beings are quite vulnerable to the formation of false memories and it’s not that we are lying,” he said. “In many circumstances we may be absolutely convinced that we’re telling the truth, even though the memory may in fact be false.”
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The Freddy Special’s significance at UNH still echoes through Durham, and those who know the true story are passionate about getting it out.
Schwarz was steadfast about the origin of the dish. “The Freddy Special was made by Freddy Attia. The Crazy Chicken was made by myself in 2007.”
Bohnson also credited Freddy for coming up with his namesake chicken recipe. “From what I remember, Freddy came up with it and it was on the menu from before Sammy… It’s a nice claim to fame, but it’s not (Sammy’s) claim to fame.”
As for the current UNH population, while the Freddy Special remains commonplace, it’s the Freddy Wrap that’s risen to popularity due to its ease of consumption. According to Sammy, he created the Freddy Wrap one day after ordering a Burger King snack wrap and thinking a similar model would catch on quickly with customers in Durham. Sammy ditched the lettuce and tomato of the snack wrap, used the Freddy Special’s signature sauce and began selling it around 2013.
Senior environmental and resource economics major Ryan Rose compared the Freddy Wrap experience to “peeing in a public pool: You know it’s ultimately wrong, but chances are you’re drunk and sometimes you can’t help yourself.”
Senior economics major Shaan Dejong has a similar relationship with the late-night grub.
“It’s not what I think, it’s what I feel,” he said. “It’s 1 a.m., I’m absolutely hammered. I want food, and I want it fast. DHOP (Durham House of Pizza), the line is too big, so I want to visit my boy Sammy, I go into CampCo and get a Freddy Wrap. If I wake up, don’t remember anything and there’s a Freddy Wrap next to me, it’s the most disgusting thing ever. If I’m eating a Freddy Wrap at 1 a.m., it is a slice of heaven.”
Senior mechanical engineering major Michael Cote has a blunt perspective on the Freddy Special: “Drunk. If you eat it sober, it’s not as good.”
It’s simple. The Freddy Special left a lasting impact on the UNH and Durham community and everyone who’s eaten it deserves to know the truth behind its muddled history.
“I just think it would be cool because my fraternity’s not there anymore,” Freddy said. “I don’t have that, don’t have anything scholastic, like I didn’t do anything where I made a name for myself that way. So, it would be cool if I had this one thing where people remember this as my mark on UNH.”