North Philly gourmet corn maker dreams of Jersey Shore boardwalk business

One North Philly native decided to become a student in the culinary land of corn — and she’s not afraid to make corny jokes about it.

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Nija Wiggins poses, smiling, with some of her corn on the cob specialties in front of her.

North Philadelphia native Nija Wiggins is the owner of Corneey's, a food truck business that sells corn on the cob during the summer and fall season. Wiggins was awarded $5,000 as a micro grant from the Philadelphia Urban League through the national nonprofit Elevate Together fund. (Kristen Mosbrucker-Garza/WHYY)

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If Nija Wiggins offers you her business card, be prepared to laugh — or groan — at the corny joke written on it.

But that’s just the vibe of her small business, Corneey’s, which sells gourmet corn on the cob and specialty popcorn at street festivals and public parks. She also caters at parties.

Wiggins dreams of opening spots on seaside boardwalks along the East Coast, starting with the Jersey Shore towns such as Ocean City, Atlantic City and Cape May. She’s shucking bushels upon bushels of Jersey-grown corn anyway, she said.

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And if she can swing it, she aspires to opening a stand inside Lincoln Financial Field to feed hungry football fans during Eagles games.

Those dreams might be years away from reality for now, but Wiggins is one step closer after snagging a $5,000 microgrant which includes business support from the Urban League of Philadelphia and Elevate Together. There were 20 small businesses across the city who were awarded $100,000 at a Northeast Philly Office Max in September 2023. It’s the third year in a row that Elevate Together, which is funded by the Office Depot Foundation, has donated the money to the Urban League and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Grantees ranged from electrical contractors to wine makers. Each business owner was matched with a U.S. Small Business Administration mentor to improve their company strategy.

Wiggins is also a graduate of the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s small business incubator, which was created in 2021 and offers Wi-Fi, work space and business classes. After a music career that was put on pause since the birth of her twin daughters, Wiggins said she’s had “a million jobs” but “knew since the beginning that being an entrepreneur was definitely the ultimate goal.”

Wiggins’ next milestone will be building her business big enough so she can hire seasonal employees to help this summer.

“I would love for my family to enjoy their life and not feel like they have to come and do everything with me,” she said. “I would love to build my own team.”

For Wiggins, her family is centric to the business, and she remembers them in her menu.

A “plain” corn-on-the-cob in a bed of popcorn is called George, in honor of her father.

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“He taught me how to hustle and he’s the original. That’s my guy,” she said.

The deep fried corn is named after her aunt Juanita who was the “matriarch of my family,” where everyone would gather for holiday celebrations.

A jerk chicken corn-on-the-cob is named after her daughter’s godfather Calvin, who is a doctor and was there for the delivery of her children — then the pair bonded afterwards.

Her sweet tea with a fizz, Clara C, comes from her grandmother.

“She gave me the recipe,” she said.

Wiggins won’t judge how you eat her corn-on-the-cob, and says it should be a full sensory experience of joy shared with others.

“You don’t have to be cute doing it,” Wiggins said. “You can just be yourself. It’s an experience where you can enjoy yourself without worrying because everybody looks the same. Food is fellowship, period.”

She even crowned herself “Queen of the Cob” among her most loyal customers.

“I know how long it takes to cook an ear of [fresh] corn without overcooking it, because you can overcook corn,” she said. “Just three minutes.”

With the grant money, Wiggins said she wants to bulk up her inventory of supplies and get a wrap for her food truck cart. If she can keep growing the business, she plans to open at least one or two brick-and-mortar restaurants in the city.

“I want to be a Philly staple,” she said. “I want you to think about Corneey’s like people think of cheesesteaks, water ice or pretzels.”

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