Local brothers off to hot start with spicy chicken
On a warm, late-summer day, a diverse group of customers stood in line for the popular Nashville-inspired hot chicken. The alluring aroma of freshly fried chicken greeted the customers, providing a great first impression of the restaurant. Ambitious brothers Arif and Kamal Mohamed opened Nashville Coop in St. Paul on September 15.
“Customers can expect good vibes,” said Arif. “We did a little research and nobody was really focused on Nashville hot fried chicken.” The owners made a strategic move, filling a market niche in Minnesota by introducing unique, Southern-style spicy chicken.
At the opening, everyone followed state COVID-19 protocol guidelines. Customers also wore masks and kept a proper social distance. The restaurant was immaculate, inviting and spacious.
Although the restaurant was busy, the owners exemplified an impressive work ethic. They received over 70 orders by lunchtime. The demand for the crispy, hot chicken increased as the minutes passed by. Orders were served up quickly. The owners exhibited hospitality, graciousness, and managed to make time for an interview.
The hot chicken can be ordered in three different ways. Customers can enjoy the Hot Chicken Strips, a Hot “Sammich” made with a fluffy butter bun or on a slice of Texas Toast. All orders come with small slices of pickles and Coop sauce that has an intriguing coral orange color.
There are also four signature sauces to choose from: MN Nice has zero heat, Coop is mild, Growlin’ is blazing hot and Cluckin is known as 24-hour pain. The Nashville Coop also offers sides like chicken strips, fresh coleslaw and a variety of cookies.
The brothers are originally from Ethiopia and spent their childhood growing up in North Minneapolis. They valued their education, worked hard and graduated from college. Kamal is an alumnus of the University of St. Thomas, while Arif attended St. Paul College and St. Mary’s. They eventually put their collective education and life experience together and teamed up to launch Nashville Coop.
Arif and Kamal were inspired to create the business in January 2020 after trying the Nashville Hot Chicken in L.A. They decided to start creating their spicy chicken and decided to add their own heat.
Kamal said, “It’s a blend of herbs and spices that go up in different heat levels. We start off with the Minnesota Nice which actually has no heat, for kids and people cannot bear the taste of hot.” He added, “It goes all the way up to Cluckin Hot, which has Carolina Reaper in it; it’s about two million on the Scoville unit, so yeah, it’s a 24-hour pain.”
The owners emphasized how the spices in Nashville are similar to Ethiopian spices. “So, we combined it with some of our back-home spices and created Nashville Coop. It’s inspired by Nashville Hot Chicken, but some of the spices are from Ethiopia as well,” said Kamal. “We were home-taught by our parents, our mom.”
The dream came into fruition during April when the owners successfully rolled out Nashville Coop food trucks. They pay homage to the Twin Cities by having two trucks—the notable red “Jersey” food truck travels to Minneapolis while the white “Away Jersey” food truck serves St. Paul and surrounding suburbs. Having two trucks also enables them to reach more customers.
The journey hasn’t been easy. COVID-19 negatively impacted their business. “The festivals and events were the bread and butter, so it’s been a struggle for a lot of food trucks,” said Kamal.
The brothers never gave up and are passionate about cooking, sharing this advice for youth: “Anything is possible. Definitely believe in yourself. Don’t worry about doubters. People have more talent than they realize.
“Do something you enjoy; you’re gonna end up doing it very well.” Both owners emphasized the importance of being focused and compassionate, because that type of energy fuels their dream.
“It’s always important to support Black-owned businesses just because of the struggles that we face,” said Arif. “Black people are very talented, and we should be recognized.”
Nashville Coop is located at 300 Snelling Ave. S., St. Paul. The shop is open Monday through Sunday from 11 am-2 pm & 4-8 pm. Customers can order take out or they can dine in with limited seating. Catering is available and the food trucks are also still on the move. For more info, visit www.nashvillecoop.com.
Ashley Lauren is a contributing writer at the MN Spokesman-Recorder.