Clayton business owners helping next generation become entrepreneurs

Owners expanding on grill rental business, adding cooking, skills training and mentoring.

CLAYTON — Having run a successful business renting grills and starting a commercial kitchen, a Clayton couple is looking to take the next step in creating the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Donald and Donna Hill opened D&D Grill Rental at 5431 Westbrook Road in Clayton in 2012. The two renovated an old storage shed into a commercial kitchen, with a grand opening in May of 2021. Next, the Hills plan to turn the front of their business into a carryout coffee and donut spot with a March 1 soft opening, complete with pastries made in-house by partner entrepreneurs.

The two started the business after Don retired from General Motors after 34 years.

“Nobody ever thought that we could do it. I put the idea about renting grills out in 2007, and people found it kind of humorous. But it evolved to where we’re at right now. I started off with three grills and now I’m up to 10 grills. I rent them out on the weekends, and people love it,” he said.

Additionally, the two are looking to open a nonprofit to teach children and young adults basic cooking skills.

“In the culinary arts, there’s so much to offer, there really is. And to have a kid exposed to that would be awesome, just having a facility within the community,” Hill said.

The business isn’t just providing a place to cook. The Hills also provide mentoring to entrepreneurs who may not have access to information and resources on how to handle the business side, such as acquiring licenses, insurance, and certifications. The Hills have also mentored kids in their grill business through youth work programs, teaching them everything from writing contracts, delivering grills, interacting with customers and maintenance.

Knowledge and capital are some of the biggest barriers to new entrepreneurs, and the Hills encountered challenges of their own on their business journey. D&D is entirely self-funded, and the Hills had a steep learning curve in the startup process.

“I always try to put at a higher level or do a lot of little extras just to make it, even with my grill business. And that theory is true, we always have to do a lot better than the others, as far as my experience, especially when I got in the business world. At GM, I was more like a robot. But that was totally different from being out here in the community. To me, you’re never too old to learn and I didn’t learn that until after my 50s,” Don said.

“We went on the dusty road, maybe they can go on the paved road because we’ve gone that way,” Donna said.

Andrew Choi, who founded Cousin’s Meals out of his home in Springboro, cooks between 150 and 200 meals a week at D&D, distributing healthy, fitness-inspired food out of Kelli’s Body Shop gym in Centerville. Choi signed a contract with D&D before the kitchen component even finished construction.

“I was looking for rental kitchens; the business was growing and I needed to be in a commercial kitchen,” Choi said. “It takes a weight off your shoulders. You have to have insurance for yourself, but Donnie carries the license and you cook under his license.”

The biggest lesson the Hills hope to pass on is for young entrepreneurs to jump out on faith.

“If you have an idea, move forward with it. You will always find someone to help and guide you,” Donna said.

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