Minj Grille serves up hot wings and cold drinks

by Lee Adams

Niki Hill has been cooking chicken wings going on 10 years. It started in her home, making them for friends and relatives when they would come over to eat. She served them at private parties, cookouts and picnics and catered them to special events. Then she started vending them at A&T football games. This led to catering for school sports departments and banquets.

‘“I had chicken coming out of my ears,’” she says.

She took 25 cases to the first ballgame and left empty handed. People would stand in line and wait patiently for more wings to cook. They loved the special sauce she made ‘— not too hot, and kind of sweet. And before long she was making and bottling the sauce in her home and selling it hand-over-fist, something she never pictured herself doing when she first concocted the recipe.

‘“I actually had to make my husband go out there and sell chicken,’” she says of Matt Hill, who just wanted to watch the A&T football games. But when he saw how fast the wings sold and how popular they were his new seat at the game became the one behind the fryer.

With the kitchen at home quickly turning into a commercial operation the Hills had to do something, and that’s when they began thinking of opening a restaurant. After scouting out property downtown they settled on a vacant building at 310 South Elm St. that was completely gutted. The building burned about five years ago and there wasn’t even a cement floor.

Realtor Milton Kern refurbished the upstairs with apartments and when the Hills approached him with the idea of putting a restaurant in the bottom he was excited at the idea, they say. He’d been thinking of putting a restaurant in the space and helped the Hill’s find the necessary contractors to turn the empty hole into the stunning, high-class, warm atmosphere that is there now ‘— the Minj Grille.

It took since November of last year to complete the renovating process, and the Hill’s decided to outfit it with kitchen equipment and furniture they bought rather than leased equipment. A full-service bar offers drinks to those who want something other than a tea or soda to accompany the wings.

It’s a casual place, the Hills insist, despite the elegant looks, high ceilings, dark tables and soft lighting. The Hills themselves are as warm and inviting as the atmosphere they’ve created. This football season they predict the place to be packed to its 90-person capacity with football fans who can watch the game from any of the five wall-mounted television sets, including a 42-inch plasma screen.

Since opening, business has been heavier than the Hills ever expected. In fact, sales are about 25 percent more than what they expected. And most all of their business has come by word of mouth.

‘“We sell a lot of chicken,’” Niki says. And as far as the A&T games this year, she says they will probably provide the wings, especially since the restaurant kitchen makes cooking large quantities easier. But they’ll let someone else handle selling it.

And just where did the name MINJ come from, that exotic sounding name? It’s a simple acronym for Matt, India, Niki and Jordyn, each member of the hill family. Though Niki says she knew starting a business would be hard work, it’s already proven to be a great way to spend more time with her husband and children. And that’s part of what makes small business in America so great.