Philadelphia, PA

Wilson’s Restaurant & Live Music Lounge Opening in Hi-Nella, NJ

Marilyn Johnson

After two years of planning and building, husband-and-wife business partners Mame (pronounced May-mee) and Mark Wilson will open Wilson’s Restaurant & Live Music Lounge— a stunning new 7,800 square-foot, 350-seat restaurant and live music venue located at 709 South Warwick Road in Hi-Nella, New Jersey — on Friday, December 3rd.

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Executive Chef Elijah Milligan, Mame Wilson, and Mark Wilson.Courtesy: Wilson's Restaurant & Live Music Lounge

The spacious 5,500 square-foot dining room and bar feature 250 seats inside, 35 of which are located around an expansive rectangle bar, as well as an additional 100 seats on two outdoor patios, which will open in the spring of 2022. This exciting new venture was born out of a $2 million-plus renovation from the Wilsons, who took the landmark building which had been closed for four years and turned it into a stunning restaurant, lounge, and recording studio featuring state-of-the-art sound and lighting, and a clean, modern design that includes gorgeous hardwood floors, cobalt blue accents and a few dozen original paintings celebrating Black musicians from The Wilson’s personal collection.

The restaurant and entertainment venue will serve New Orleans-influenced, southern cuisine, with dishes including Crab Cake Egg Rolls; Oxtail Grilled Cheese; Old Bay Wings; ½ Fried Chicken; Grilled Lamb Chops; Lobster Gumbo; and much more from Executive Chef Elijah Milligan. Small Plates, which also include fresh oysters and chilled jumbo shrimp, range in price from $15-$19, while Larger Plates are offered for $24-$42. Milligan, who has experience working on both coasts at revered standouts Le Bec-Fin and Vernick in Philadelphia, and Angele in the Napa Valley, recently returned to the region after a four-year stint in California.

The bar will feature locally-produced craft beers and spirits as well as an extraordinary collection of bourbons and wines from all over the world. Most notably, Wilson’s is one of only three establishments in New Jersey that possesses a license to serve drinks until 5 a.m.

“The building was an eyesore, and our new supper club is something that we believe the area is really missing,” said Mark. “The idea came when I was planning to retire from my job as a chemical engineer, and I realized I wanted to keep working and creating something for our community. Growing up, my father owned clubs in Chicago where Buddy Guy and other luminaries would play. I grew up with a love for clubs and live music venues. I really love creating memories. I adore experiencing the vibe of a buzzing venue and I like challenges. Most of all, I really love meeting new people, and I cannot wait to meet our guests when we open the doors on Friday.”

Music industry legend Rena Sinakin will be the venue’s Music Director. Sinakin has worked with luminaries including John Lennon, Gladys Night and the Pips, Richie Havens, Jackson Browne, Melba Moore, McFadden & Whitehead, and many more during her illustrious career as a producer and fine artist, with some of her artwork adorning a variety of album covers.

“We plan to be a live entertainment venue known for extraordinary food and music, but also for a variety of entertainment,” said Mame. “We will host comedy nights and have a focus on keeping things interesting from night to night with more than just jazz, blues, and dance music being featured.”

Mame immigrated to the U.S. via Senegal in 1987, moving to New York just out of high school. Trilingual and raised in an affluent household, Mame earned a degree in International Marketing from Baruch College, City University in New York. She worked in corporate America for 10 years before becoming an entrepreneur, opening an art gallery in Brooklyn. She would eventually move her business to Voorhees, NJ, where her LaBelle Art Gallery now specializes in African-American art. Two of her sisters also own restaurants in Brooklyn, and Mame calls her mother a “superwoman” and her inspiration, raising five highly successful daughters.

Mark, who graduated cum laude from Florida State University, grew up between Key West and Chicago. A military brat who traveled throughout the U.S., he’s the son of a 29-year Navy veteran mother. While he went to school to become a pharmacist, he would change paths and travel the world working for ExxonMobil, living on nearly every continent during his adult life. His father owned two clubs in Chicago — The Black Diamond, and The Beacon Club. Mark’s mother is Italian, while his father is French Creole, thus providing him with a diverse palate of international flavors throughout his childhood.

“Mark was very persistent when we first started talking about doing this,” said Mame. “I’m thankful for that, as we are now in a position that I’m incredibly proud to be in. Being able to open this venue in this community, and doing so with my husband who grew up around live music clubs is incredibly exciting. We can’t wait to get the doors open and host people from all over the region. We’re hoping to attract guests from all over New Jersey and beyond.”

Wilson’s Live will be open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 3:30 a.m., and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sundays will also feature a jazz brunch and dancing in the evening.

Marilyn Johnson is a freelance food and travel writer covering the food and drink scene of Philadelphia, South Jersey, and beyond. Food news: phillygrub@gmail.com. Travel tips: phillygrubtrips@gmail.com.

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Marilyn Johnson is a Philadelphia area-based food and travel writer focusing on food & drink in the Mid-Atlantic region. Email phillygrub@gmail.com for Philly area news; phillygrubtrips@gmail.com for travel tips and opportunities.

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