In the Kitchen with The Sassy Biscuit Co.
by Katherine Johnson
Sometimes breakfast is overlooked when you are someone who is making a long road trip; we settle for packaged pancakes and average hash browns, or the fast food drive-thru window. It’s rare to find good food at a sit-down breakfast diner when you’re traveling for miles and miles. But that’s exactly what this bruncherie in Billings, Montana strives for. As a military spouse, Jilan Hall-Johnson knows from experience that she “can’t always find good food in small places.” As the owner of The Sassy Biscuit Co., she wanted to bring food styles from all over— Seattle, Denver, San Diego, Washington D.C.— to Billings, Montana. “It’s important to bring good food to small places,” she continues, “based on my experience, what is even more difficult to find is good breakfast” while traveling.
Her passion for this business stems from her experience at culinary arts school, the amazing foods that she and her husband have experienced over the years together, and her childhood. “[I’ve] always loved to cook. When I was a child, [I would] set up stand[s] on the sidewalk and sell bake goods,” says Jilan. After high school, Jilan attended culinary school in Pittsburg, and met her husband at school. Shortly after they graduated, DeMarco joined the Marines and they have moved to many places around the United States every three years. Jilan had been entertaining the dream of opening up a restaurant for quite some time, and when they relocated to Billings in 2016, it was the perfect opportunity to do so.
A similar position to the federal government job she held in San Diego was not an option for her once they came to Billings and so she decided to open The Sassy Biscuit Co. Though their bruncherie doors opened in April 2018, Jilan and her husband first marketed their brand in Billings by selling soft baked granola as a small vendor at the Yellowstone Valley Farmer’s Market. One of the things that makes their granola unique is that it’s soft baked and has a variety of fresh produce rather than the hard granola one usually finds when shopping.
The bruncherie is aptly named after the different ways Jilan and her team focus on the biscuit. As a whole, this restaurant serves breakfast dishes all day and has a sophisticated approach to southern and comfort foods such as pancakes, waffles, mac n cheese, porridges, southern collard greens, chicken and waffles etc. Many of the items are inspired by her childhood and adult life, Jilan says, [and] the names on the menu always have a sassy twist. For example, The Sassy Biscuit Co. serves three different porridges named The Ma, The Pa, and The Nana which is a tribute to her childhood and inspired by the children’s story Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The Finn is a dish of stewed huckleberries and cashew cream served with a sassy biscuit and is named after Huckleberry Finn. “We try to bring something a little different to breakfast,” she says. The most popular item on the menu is The Kitchen Sink, “a hodgepodge of different items that work really well together and are tasty and fun,” Jilan says. The Kitchen Sink consists of homemade fries, onions, peppers, mushrooms, their house made sausage, bacon gravy, a sassy biscuit and a fried egg. Despite these different approaches to traditional comfort foods and artistic names, the menu “is always approachable,” says Jilan. “[It’s for] foodies and families- and those who are not usually inclined to try new things should not be scared to try these foods.”
Everything in their bruncherie is also completely homemade. Their biscuits are always fresh, they make their own hot sauce, smoke their own bacon and grind the sausage... “Nothing comes out of a box,” says Jilan. “It all comes from local purveyors… Everything we could possibly get is as local as we possibly can get it.” Their dark, maple syrup is from Vermont, their tea is from Missoula, their gluten-free flour is bought locally and they purchase cage-free eggs from Hutterites. One thing that is probably most unique about their bruncherie is that The Sassy Biscuit Co. holds a beer and wine license, a rare thing for a place that serves brunch and especially atypical for Billings, Montana. They also serve fun drinks, Jilan says, citing one popular beer called The Hangover, which is a local beer and coffee stout.
If you come into the restaurant, you will find Jilan acting as the Front of the House Manager running food, engaging with customers, and overseeing the operations of the bruncherie. When she is not doing that, Jilan is the chef at home, experimenting and trying to find new ways to make old comfort foods or making new recipes. For example, she works on a new technique to make mac n cheese, presets it to her cook and the dish takes off from there.
Jilan is from Syracuse NY, and attended Pennsylvania Culinary Institute in Pittsburg. As a military family, Jilan, DeMarco and their 3 children have been able to experience a variety of foods and have lived in North Carolina, California, Virginia and now Montana. They love the beautiful Montana nature and the “small town vibe” of living in Billings.