Five years ago, when they came to East Tennessee separately with their families, Anne and Matt McMillan were a match made in heaven – they just didn’t know it yet.
Anne came from New York and Matt from Atlanta. Anne was a dynamo with a marketing background. Matt worked in a car shop who knew his way around a kitchen. They both bristled at the idea of working for someone else.
They met and were married a year ago. Anne had started a marketing business that was showing promise, while also working toward an MBA at the University of Tennessee. Matt didn’t settle on a direction until he examined his passion.
“My husband’s a great cook,” Anne said. “He’s passionate about wings (and Philly cheesesteak sandwiches). He’d watch someone making wings and say, ‘I can do better.’”
Matt put his money where his mouth was and, so far, he has walked the walk. The McMillans opened Knox Wings & Philly’s (104 Cedar Lane, just east of I-75, off Merchants Drive) on July 9. Since then, they have been ranked No. 4 out of Knoxville’s top 10 wings restaurants on Yelp.
Secret is fresh
Knox Wings & Philly’s has been a marketing person’s dream. Anne said a nickel hasn’t been spent on advertising, but the community has found them.
“Before we opened, I was scared to death that no one would be there (on the first day),” Anne said. “With the pandemic going on, we had no idea how people would react. We’ve been staying home. How were people going to find us?”
The response has been nothing short of amazing. Knox Wings & Philly’s is tailor-made for a pandemic – no indoor seating, five large picnic tables outside and a stable carry-out clientele. Plans are being made for cold weather.
Word’s gotten out about the quality of product that Matt can deliver. Rather than a varied menu, like the name, wings and Phillys are the focus. Add in a gyro, sautéed shrimp po’ boy, chicken sandwich, barbecue sandwich and hot dog – as well as four types of salads – to keep it interesting.
Anne said the wings – boneless and bone-in – are bigger than the normal wings. Six sauces are highlighted by mango jalapeno, along with a zesty dry rub.
Fresh is the key to the Phillys. Whether it’s the bread, the beef, the cheese or the vegetables, nothing has been sitting around waiting for a sandwich to happen.
“When you get everything fresh, you have to learn about ordering,” Anne said. “The first few days we ran out of things. We didn’t want that to happen.”
Engagement a key
Sometimes the wait on a phone order can be an hour, but that’s one of the negatives that comes with freshness. It takes time, but Anne said the regulars understand.
“We have a wonderful fan base,” Anne said. “Knoxville takes its food seriously. Our customers are amazing. There’s been no need to run ads. They’ve been able to find us.”
Anne readily admits she’s not the chef in the marriage. When she breaks away from her business, Metier Business Consulting, to visit the restaurant, she’s there to avoid the kitchen and work the crowd.
She’s the face of the restaurant when it comes to social media.
“We try to respond to everything that’s put on social media, even if it’s something where a person didn’t have a good experience,” Anne said. “The engagement is important. A bad review gives us something to work on; something to address. We work to make the next experience a good one.”
Knox Wings & Philly’s is open daily 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Orders can be called in to 865-766-9116.