Johnson’s Farm closes family restaurant after 15 years

  • Johnson’s Farm Restaurant employees gather for a final family photo. From left to right: Mandy Blackbird, Emily Jillson, Terry Bouchard, Ashlee Giansanto, Jennifer Rogers, Susan Piro, Erin Jillson, Brent walker, Steve Johnson, Diane Johnson, Austin Paine, Kenny Rogers, Kristie Leuders, Kaylee Vitols, Casey Miller, Tracey Weed, Amanda Carey, and Timm Phillips. EMILY JILLSON

  • Steve and Diane “Dede” Johnson are retiring from the restaurant business after opening the Johnson’s Farm Restaurant and Sugar House 15 years ago. SARAH ROBERTSON

Staff Writer
Published: 1/2/2019 10:00:06 PM

ORANGE — Late Sunday morning, after the last egg was poached and the final pancake flipped, the Johnson family closed their restaurant for good and hosted a party for staff, family and friends.

The family announced the closing of Johnson’s Farm Restaurant in September. Since then, Steve Johnson said the response from the community has been sincere and sentimental.

“It surprised us,” Steve said. “Well, overwhelmed is the word.”

Over dinner last Thursday night, Gail and Tim Pease reflected on the years they have spent as patrons of the Johnson’s Farm Restaurant.

“When people first heard they were closing, it was like pulling the rug out from underneath them,” Gail Pease said. The couple has been coming to the restaurant since it first opened and are friends of the Johnson’s.

“It’s been a favorite place of so many people and it will be missed,” said Tim Pease. “Kenny is the best short order cook for lunch.”

Dishes like the maple glazed chicken, ribs and salmon made with fresh maple syrup harvested and processed on site have always been local favorites. Thankfully the Johnson crew will continue to tap maple trees and makes their own syrup in the adjoining sugar house, along with other responsibilities of running a farm.

Johnson’s Farm Restaurant and Sugar House started as a vegetable stand on the side of the road, selling produce grown on the farm. In 2003 Steve and Diane Johnson built the two-story building at 210 Wheeler Ave., bought some ice cream making equipment, and started selling homemade ice cream. Then they tried serving breakfast and quickly the eatery expanded to lunch and dinner, too. 

“Everybody said, you build it, they’ll come,” said Diane Johnson.

In a farewell letter to Steve and Diane, staff members shared their parting thoughts. 

“It’s one thing to be a boss, another to be a mentor, but a completely different thing to be a leader,” they wrote. “You made a family out of strangers, helped shape our futures, taught us what hard work was all about, and so much more.”

Many Johnson said she will miss the early morning hours spent in the kitchen while she prepares food and her father makes doughnuts, when they can chat before the day gets too hectic. Amanda Yerac calls Steve and Diane her “second set of parents”, and held her wedding on their farm. Emily Jillson was thankful for the opportunity to work alongside her sisters. 

“If I think about it too long the list would never end of all the reasons I have loved every sweaty, sore feet minute of this job,” wrote Holly Manson. “Work just isn’t this much fun, unless you were lucky enough to work here.”

Most employees seem to agree that working at Johnson’s Farm Restaurant and Sugar House felt more like a family gathering than a workplace. High school and college students worked there to earn extra money on the side while others wore many hats and became integral parts of the restaurant.

“It’s crazy to think the place I call home will soon close it’s doors, but I’ve gained more from the Johnson’s crew than any other first time job could have taught me and I’ve gained a family I’ll cherish forever,” wrote Kaylee Vitols, an employee of almost a decade. 

“I’m going fishing,” Timm Phillips wrote for his parting words.

The restaurant employed 22 full-time and part-time employees, some family but all of them friends. The family hopes to sell the building to someone interested in running their own restaurant. All they ask it that the new owners maintain a similar casual, comfort food restaurant atmosphere for the regulars.

“We wouldn’t be here after all these years if it wasn’t for the help that’s for sure,” Steve said. 

Steve said he is ready for retirement, and will spend his free time hunting, fishing and spending more time with family and friends.

“Now everybody wants to take us out to dinner, but where are they gonna go?” Steve said. 

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@atholdailynews.com.

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