Paul Mills said that when he and his brother, Eugene, considered selling their two markets, one located on Route 1 north of Milford and a second on the corner of SE 2nd and Marshall Street, they wanted to be sure that the stores went to people who would love and care for them as much as they did. When Baker Petroleum contacted them about the possibility of purchasing, the brothers felt that it would be a good fit. On Wednesday, March 22, both stores were officially placed under new ownership.
“The only change is who owns the stores,” Paul Mills said. “They have kept all the employees, so the same staff is fixing your sandwich and cooking your chicken. The chicken recipe is ours and we have provided it to the new owners, so that will not change.” Paul said that he and his brother had reached an age when it was time to slow down, so they decided it was time to retire.
The first Mills Brothers Market opened in 1974 at 1606 Bay Road. Paul and Eugene Mills put a deposit on a small “mom and pop” convenience store, providing $200 each for a rent to buy option. Paul said that he was working for Acme Markets at the time while his brother was working for Medd’s, another convenience store chain in town. In an earlier interview. Paul said that his brother had to “borrow his two hundred from Dad.” Paul said that the two brothers were just a “couple of farm boys trying to do something different.”
While operating the first store, the brothers kept their jobs during the day, building the business after their shifts at Acme and Medd’s. Paul said this meant a lot of “on-the-job training.”
“We originally started out just as a convenience store,” Paul said. “It wasn’t long before we started the food service part of it. We created our own chicken recipe and it just kind of took off. We got some financial help from Dad at first, but then it just grew. Eugene and I could never have done it without the support of our wives. They have worked as hard as we have, sometimes harder, to keep this going.” Paul praised his wife, Bobbie, and his brother’s wife, Etta, as “good women” who supported them throughout their business venture.
Eugene and Paul opened their second location in 1983 on SE 2nd Street in what was then a rundown building. They focused on good products with excellent service. In 1985, the brothers opened a third location across from Perdue on Rehoboth Boulevard. Gas pumps were added to all locations in the 1990s. Paul said that they sold the Rehoboth Boulevard location 10 or 12 years ago, but the Bay Road and SE 2nd Street locations remained Mills Brothers Chicken Man locations.
“This is a successful business in an area between other locations we own,” Lori Viera of Baker Petroleum said. “We have one location in Dover, the North Dover Tiger Mart, as well as seven locations in Sussex County. We have locations in Lewes, Rehoboth, Georgetown, Laurel, Seaford and Ellendale, all Exxon locations. Mills Brothers was already branded as an Exxon location and they have an incredible product. We have purchased the Chicken Man branding, so that will remain part of the stores which will be called Country Corner Market.”
Ms. Viera said that Baker Petroleum is family-oriented business which began years ago with her grandfather and his brothers. Currently, the company is operated by Ms. Viera along with her cousins and siblings, Wayne, Alan, Matt, Mark and Holly Baker. She said that they intend to keep the same food, the same people and the same warmth and happiness that the Mills Brothers provided for the past 45 years.
Paul said that he and Eugene did not want to hand the keys to the business over to just anyone. They wanted new owners that would take the same pride in providing good products and customer service as they did. He said that after 45 years in business, the brothers wanted their legacy to continue.
“We feel we have made the right decision and are handing this over to the right people,” Paul said. “As for what I’m going to do now that I am retired, I really am not sure. I restore old cars, so that will give me some time for that. I like to golf a little. I like to fish a little. I am just going to do whatever I want.”
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