Jilan Hall-Johnson recently opened a second location of her successful Montana-based bruncherie in Dover. She’s already planning for a third restaurant, also in Dover, called Jook. And, she’s doing all of this during a pandemic.
As a teen mom, Hall-Johnson juggled attending culinary school while raising her first child alone. “I loved cooking. Everyone said, ‘You should open a restaurant,’” she recalls. But, she says, following culinary school, she ended up in a low-paying job working at a hotel. Disillusioned, she headed in another direction, marrying a Marine, DeMarco Johnson, growing their family, moving across the country, earning a graduate degree in counseling and working to help wounded warriors.
When her husband was transferred from San Diego to Montana, Hall-Johnson says she knew it might be a struggle to find fulfilling work, so she reexamined her dream to open a restaurant.
A cooking show about waffles inspired her to combine her family recipe for biscuits with waffles. In Montana, Hall-Johnson opened The Sassy Biscuit Co. Bruncherie in 2018. “The biscuit became the star of everything,” she says. The restaurant serves such made-from-scratch dishes as pressed shortcakes with warmed blueberries and sweet lemon butter, griddled cakes, spooned cakes and sammies.
A chance encounter with a woman from NH’s Seacoast encouraged her to check out the area and open her second restaurant there. In August, the restaurant opened, and business is good. “We have been well received. The New Hampshire folks get us,” Hall-Johnson says. Each location employs about 25.
Now she is looking to open a restaurant for the dinner crowd. Jook will serve fried chicken as well as fresh desserts and signature cocktails. “We will do some fun stuff,” she says.