March 07, 2018ALMONT — The long dark and empty Prella building at the southeast corner of Main and St. Clair streets is showing signs of life.
Since early February, local entrepreneur Craig Hilliker has been transforming the space into what will soon become the "Roots Barbecue" restaurant..
Hilliker, 33, knows his way around a kitchen, having attained chef status after learning from the best at Detroit's MGM and Wolfgang Puck restaurants and the Mitchell's Fish Markets in Rochester and Birmingham.
Born and raised in Capac, Hilliker was introduced to the world of cuisine as a teen while employed at the former Paisano's restaurant in downtown Capac.
Following his high school graduation in 2003, he participated in St. Clair Tech's culinary arts program which further piqued his interest in cooking and food preparation.
By late March or early April, Craig Hilliker expects to open his brand new barbeque restaurant on the southeast corner of Main and St. Clair streets in downtown Almont. photo by Tom Wearing.
"I used to cook a little bit at home when I was younger," Hilliker recalled, "but it was that (St. Clair Tech) course that inspired me. It was much more comprehensive and it turned out to be a lot of fun."
The experience led to Hilliker's decision to study cuisine at Johnson Wales College of Culinary Arts in South Carolina where he began to develop and fine tune his skills.
"After that I worked my way up and eventually learned how to operate a kitchen as a sous chef," Hilliker said. "After Wolfgang Puck, I had the opportunity to become the executive chef at Mitchell's."
All the while he's had his eyes on doing something of his own.
Hilliker said Roots Barbecue represents the fulfillment of a longheld dream to open his own restaurant.
"I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit," he said. "This restaurant has been years in the making and it's involved a lot of thought and planning.
"I've asked a lot of people a lot of questions and have done a lot of research," Hilliker continued. "Now I'm ready to do it."
He envisions Roots Barbecue as a place where regular people can feel comfortable and enjoy good, simple food that's "made right."
"I've come from a fine dining background," said Hilliker. "But my personal tastes and style are laid back and simple.
"Most important is that we give our customers great food and great service," he said. "That's always the key."
Though Root's emphasis will be on barbecue, Hilliker said the restaurant's core menu will be consistent and simple, with the addition of seasonal specials.
Hilliker pointed out there is still more work to complete inside the building, most of which he has done himself.
Most notably, he has created a warmer atmosphere inside the restaurant with the application of darker colors on the ceiling and walls.
If all goes according to his plans, Hilliker will officially open for business in late March or early April.
He is currently in the process of seeking a liquor license through the state of Michigan.
Scheduled business hours are: Monday-Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for brunch only.
Hilliker estimates employing as many as 25-30 people, including cooks and waitstaff.
He said he is currently looking to fill positions at the restaurant.
Those interested may call Hilliker at 810-334-1510 and leave a message.
"I'm really excited to be here in Almont," he said. "I think people are always looking for another or different dining option," he said. "I want to be able to fill that niche."
Hilliker and his wife, Jessica, also a Capac High School graduate, reside in Romeo with their three children: Carden, 5; Caisen, 3: and Calla, 2.
Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.