Growing up in the shadows of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, AJ Kiamie always dreamed of playing for the Ole Miss Rebels. In high school, he was the starting long snapper for the Oxford Chargers.
Three generations of the Kiamie family were born and grew up in Oxford. His grandfather was one of the first people in the community to purchase a liquor license. After he successfully attained this, he opened up Kiamie’s Package Store on Jackson Avenue, a business that remains today. It’s been a part of the community for more than 50 years.
This would not be his only business venture. Kiamie would eventually go on to have a bowling alley, a bar, car wash and plenty of other businesses.
The Kiamie name is a staple in this town and has left a lasting impression on Oxford. After high school, AJ didn’t want to venture off and go to another school. He stuck with what he knew.
“When you grow up in a major college town and your entire family attended college, you really only know that school,” he said. “It honestly never seriously crossed my mind to go anywhere else,” Kiamie said.
He had an offer from Delta State to play baseball and another at Auburn for football. But he had those deep ties at Ole Miss and felt it was in his best interest to play at home. After his career with Ole Miss football, AJ was set on competing for a spot in the NFL.
“The unfortunate thing about being a football specialist is there are limited spots on NFL rosters,” he said. “There are literally 32 professional long snappers in the world. There are no backups. You are either one of these 32 guys or you are something else completely. Needless to say, I never was able to become one of these 32 guys.”
AJ had worked his entire life up until that point to be a football player and it was hard to think about anything else besides football. Fortunately, he had the family businesses he could be a part of, and that was positive. He would ultimately go back to the liquor store where he worked as a cashier. But he really missed the sports aspect of his life.
“It was really hard to find a substitute for the exhilaration of sports,” Kiamie said. “Luckily, I met my future wife, who was also a college athlete. Meeting Claire was by far the best thing to ever happen to me. She also understood the feelings of not being a competitive athlete anymore. So yes, I felt stuck for a long time, but then I found my motivation for being successful in life and not just sports.”
Later he was looking to sell his home. When looking over the real estate contract, he saw how much the agent was making on commission. Kiamie did research and saw that he only lacked a few credits in school to obtain his real estate license.
“I learned from selling liquor and wine for several years that people really appreciate not being sold something. They want honesty and expertise, then they want to make their own decisions. That is the key to repeat business. I took the same approach to real estate,” he said.
AJ had grown up watching his father run pizza places and other businesses, so he had much experience in the industry. He was one day showing a property in Oxford to a client but it ultimately didn’t work for that person’s prospective business. AJ saw an opportunity for himself. He had been thinking of opening a wine bar in Oxford for a while and saw this space as the perfect location.
“So we started on the planning. I did a ton of research and got a lot of professional opinions,” he said. “I kept waiting for a sign to tell me this wouldn’t work but it never came. My background in operating my own business, coupled with my commercial real estate background, along with Claire’s eye for detail and taste created the Sipp.”
The new wine bar “Sipp on South Lamar” was up and running. Its vibe is nothing like Oxford has seen or experienced before and the Kiamies were excited to open up.
“Then came the hard part – opening your first restaurant in the middle of an Ole Miss football season. All my planning and number crunching didn’t give me hands-on experience in operations. It was a trial by fire. We either handled it or we crashed and burned.”
They made it through those early days. Now they’ve dealt with the Coronavirus crisis and all that has brought to businesses and lives. The Sipp has reopened and is serving again.
AJ is looking forward to the future with a positive outlook and hopes to thrive in the restaurant industry.
“Who knows what the future holds?” he said. “But it’s been a fun ride so far.”