Bringing Big City Living to Small Town Plates
When you meet Jilan Hall-Johnson you instantly recognize that she is driven as well as passionate about food and family. The love of food and cooking started at an early age where she would often be found in the kitchen cooking with her family. This passion led her to culinary school and she also continued her education and received her master’s degree in Social Psychology. As a young adult, she was living in San Diego where she met and married her USMC husband DeMarco. DeMarco’s military career enabled her family to travel across the country from coast to coast, giving them the opportunity to sample and savor the best cuisine in different regions of the country. Although full of various experiences, these many moves could be a challenge for Jilan as she had to leave jobs with every new re-assignment. When DeMarco was re-assigned to Billings, MT, she was having a hard time finding a position that suited her. This is when she decided that it was time to take her career into her own hands and began the journey of owning her own business. What started as a fun idea of making biscuit waffles for her kids suddenly blossomed into a unique food venture. While Jilan was equipped with lots of ideas and recipes, she also knew she needed help on the business ownership side of things to make this dream a reality. She reached out to the SBA and was referred to the local Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) for business advising. The VBOC offered her support and was committed to help her succeed as a military spouse. Her VBOC Advisor also introduced her to the Montana Small Business Development Center (MT SBDC) office where she received help with her business plan, selecting a location, capital, and everything in between. “The SBA and resource partners were instrumental in the success of my business,” stated Jilan. With this help and guidance, she began drawing on her culinary expertise and education while at the same time revisiting her roots to ensure a full-fledged cultural experience was part of her future restaurant. “The Sassy Biscuit” restaurant was created incorporating recipes and techniques from her childhood as well as a little bit of who she is today. One day an out-of-state customer was in her Montana location and met with Jilan. There was an instant connection and led to Jilan visiting NH to consider a new venture and partnership. Jilan ultimately formed a partnership with Roni Pekins and expanded “The Sassy Biscuit” to a second location in Dover, NH. Her new partner also introduced Jilan to the NH SBDC and Warren Daniels, director of the seacoast NH SBDC. Warren has been instrumental in her expansion into NH and helped them find the perfect location. He also offered them a wealth of information about the NH restaurant market and has been a tremendous asset to their success. The pandemic has been hard to navigate for this business that opened in the midst of 2020.
While her business in MT was able to take advantage of the assistance of SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), her NH business wasn’t eligible because it was so new. It was welcomed news when the SBA announced the new Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) which gave some much needed financial assistance to the NH business and is allowing Jilan and Roni to keep afloat as things in the downtown area slowly get back to normal activities.
With the opening of the ‘Sassy Biscuit’ and her new evening fried chicken restaurant, “Jook,” Jilan keeps very busy. Jilan recently joined us on ‘Tuesday Talks’ a monthly discussion that focused on “Women’s History Month,” where she described her journey and gave us a look into her typical workday. You can see the interview here: https://youtu.be/NJbwntiItQA and you can watch the SBA Success Story on Jilans journey:
During the Restaurant Revitalization Funding (RRF) we visited Jilan at ‘Sassy Biscuit’ in Dover, NH along with U.S. Congressman - Chris Pappas, SBA NH District Director - Amy Bassett, SBA NH Deputy District Director - Rachael Roderick, and business partner - Roni Pekins.