Person of the Week

Jill Steckelberg

Jillie's Bistro and Boutique, Owner, Chef, Baker, Cashier, Server

I have four children. Ours was the home that all of their friends wanted to come to. The restaurant grew from there. I was used to feeding a couple dozen kids dinner, a midnight snack, breakfast again in the morning. Even their parents would come over and so this business grew out of entertaining guests in my home.

1. What led you to the mission of being a bistro and boutique owner, chef, baker, cashier and server?

As the owner of a small restaurant, you have to do everything. You are the server, the cashier, baker, chef – it depends on who is working with me which position I am holding at the moment.

Jill-Jillsie's-6One thing led to another. My sister brought me to Hermann, Missouri. I fell in love with a building here. It led itself to be an evening coffee house style bar. When we opened the coffee house, the breakfast restaurant in the downtown district had recently closed. People said, “Since you already have the coffee, would you like to add a few breakfast items?” The more breakfast items we added, the more the breakfast business exploded. It took its own path and now we have the bistro that serves meals all day and the boutique. (To learn more about the restaurant and boutique, click on this link.)

Front-door-Jillsie's-5I had to learn how to do this work. I had four children – which is a lot for today. Ours was the home that all of their friends wanted to come to. So it wasn’t anything to have two dozen kids come over for breakfast. The restaurant grew from there. I was used to feeding a couple dozen kids dinner, a midnight snack, breakfast again in the morning. Even their parents would come over and so this business grew out of entertaining guests in my home.

I had no formal training in being a chef. I have two different degrees that are very different from what I am doing now. I have a bachelor’s degree in pre-law and studied computer science at St. Louis University. I also have a teaching degree that encompasses those subjects.

2. What does this mission mean to you?

tables-jillsiesI try to look at it as a great experiment. I keep up with each new obstacle in the way and watch the business grow. I always wonder from one day to the next exactly where it is going to go. It’s grown much more than I would have expected. It’s taking on a life of its own. I have to keep up and enjoy it. I enjoy all the people I have met while I am doing it.

3. What was your best day being a bistro and boutique owner, chef, baker, cashier and server?

arch-Jillsie's-3Any one of the large Sundays that went smoothly. Sundays are huge. It was always fun to see the excitement of all of the staff when the day went very, very well. Carl would go look at the numbers and tell us how many people we served. Everybody would be excited. It was fun to feel like we had accomplished so much. Those are the best days – when everything goes really well.

4. What was your worst day being a bistro and boutique owner, chef, baker, cashier and server?

window-Jillsie's-2The first Sunday that everything turned upside down and we had far more people than we expected and we weren’t prepared for that many people. I wasn’t prepared for being assertive enough with the servers and orchestrating the whole experience.

5. How did you survive your worst day?

tables-jillsiesI really had to pick myself back up and say, “Well, that was a disaster, but this is a learning experience. Get up. Reorganize and go at it again.” The next Sunday went very well. It was about learning to pick myself back up.

I had to decide rather than know that there was going to be another bad day. I had to know that there was going to be another bad day and that I could always see how the issues could be resolved in a positive manner – quickly.

menu-Jillsie'sOne of the things that helped me was realizing that some of the things that had gone on that bad day would have made a great comedy routine. I was so used to living life as a drama. So much of life can be set to comedy rather than drama. This has made life a whole lot more fun.

I was trained by a person to be someone who could not cope. I was trained to cry when something bad happened. I was always sorry and apologetic for things like going to the grocery store at the wrong time and not purchasing something on the list. I was always apologizing and always crying and always sad.

But when I got away from that environment I realized there was nothing in me that wanted to be a person who couldn’t cope. I like laughing. I realized that without that influence there was no need to be that person that was always crying and apologetic. I realized that it is really a lot more fun and healthy to just get back up and try again. It was very freeing to leave that relationship and not to have anybody in my life that expected me to be sad and crying all the time.

front-windows-Jillsie's-4I found I like teasing people and having them tease me back. I like that whole kind of joy and calming atmosphere. I learned that that having fun is me and is in me. I don’t have to be who other people expect. I don’t have to fit in to their motives and their life. I can be myself.

It takes a lot of work but it has been well worth it. Life does turn upside down and you have to get back up again.

The fire alarm in the building went off for hours and we had to move everyone out of the restaurant. I thought, “It’s annoying, but it is funny!” If you really look at these things, they are funny. So I will ask people, “Are you behaving?” They will say, “No! We are not. And we are not planning to!” Then the smile spreads. A smile can spread as fast as a frown. And smiles are so much more fun. There are sad things that do happen, but everything is not sad.   And there are ways to get over the really, really hard things – to open yourself up to when you are ready to laugh again.

6. What advice do you have for someone who would like to be a bistro and boutique owner, chef, baker, cashier or server?

Desserts-Jillsie'sI would tell them to find a restaurant that is similar to what their dreams are and work there for a little while. Realize how much of the job is outside the cooking for the people. If what you really like is to cook for people, realize that there are a whole lot of hours that you are not actually cooking. So having a variety of interests is important.

Learn what you can from whomever you can. I know that is one of the things that I did. I was a server a long time ago. I learned valuable lessons. Just be open to suggestions. Try things. Understand that it can fail and you can pick yourself back up and try something different. In failure you can see what you need to do to make it work.

One Comment

  1. Barbara Sheets 10/8/14
    12:27 pm

    The restaurant and boutique look charming. I need to get to Herman soon and come to your place. It sounds as though you have reinvented yourself and your life and learned about relationships. I find that very inspiring! You make it clear that even though bad things can happen that you are not going to let that define your life and destroy your joy. I look forward to seeing that joy in your restaurant. I am sure the food tastes great with that good energy!

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