OTTOVILLE — At Millie’s Cafe, it’s all about the chicken wings.
The Ottoville staple, which has been located at 141 W. Canal St. since the late 1920s, has won more than 25 awards for its wings. Most recently, the restaurant/bar was voted second best place for wings in the The Lima News’ Best of the Region for 2016, along with second- and third-place finishes in the Kalida Pioneer Wing Cook Off.
Though Millie’s has been serving food for almost 90 years, the business wasn’t always known for its chicken wings. It wasn’t until current owner Kyle Bendele took over that Millie’s chicken wings started gaining notoriety throughout the region.
“When I took over it was a flat out bar,” Bendele said. “We had food, and that food was still good, but what I’ve done with the menu now is quite different.”
In the 11 years since Bendele assumed ownership of the restaurant, he has added 16 homemade sauces to complement the chicken wings. He said the most popular sauce is honey barbecue, followed closely by chipotle ranch and sweet habanero.
Bendele said he finds inspiration everywhere when creating the newest, more flavorful sauces.
“I used to go places quite a bit to try new wing sauces and get ideas from there,” he said. “Sometimes I get ideas from TV commercials, or if I see a jar of sauce in the supermarket I think, ‘maybe I could try something like that.’ I get ideas from all over, and then I try to tweak it and make it my own.”
Bendele’s chicken wings have been so well received that he now serves customers from all over the region, including Cleveland, Wapakoneta and Fort Wayne, Ind.
While Bendele has tasted success with his wings in recent years, the restaurant owner admitted he had no idea what he was doing when he first started.
“I didn’t know anything about food,” he said. “I liked doing it, but I didn’t know anything. I especially didn’t know that wings were going to become the popular thing.”
With no professional training, Bendele said he “learned on the fly.” When Millie’s held its first “Wing Night,” Bendele said he didn’t even have sauces prepared.
“Someone asked if I had honey barbecue, and I said I could probably whip some up real fast, so it kind of happened on the spot,” he said. “Then after awhile I tweaked the recipe and made it my own, and people really liked it.”
After that, Bendele said he began to experiment with more sauces.
“Now here I am, 16 sauces later,” he said with a smile.
Today, Millie’s Cafe runs wing specials four nights a week. These specials include boneless wings on Mondays, grilled wings on Tuesdays, naked wings on Wednesdays and traditional breaded wings on Thursdays.
Going forward, Bendele hopes the popularity of his chicken wings will bring even more people to Ottoville.
“I try to push myself and be known more outside Ottoville,” he said. “I really like getting people from outside the village to come into town because we’ve got a neat little town. I want to try and bring people here, not just to try my wings, but to explore Ottoville because there’s a lot of things to see.”
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @bush_lima