New cafe now open in Richardton
When Johnny Conlon looked at the building across the alley from his home in Richardton, he did not just see an empty building. He saw an opportunity. On Oct. 28 of last year, Johnny's Café opened at 246 North Avenue East in downtown Richardton.
"We needed a café in town. I've seen the vehicles come and go when it was closed. I thought, 'Gosh, I could do that,'" Conlon said.
Conlon is originally from Dickinson, and wherever he has lived and worked, he has worked with food.
In high school he worked in the back room of a custom meats butcher shop. He then went into the U.S. Army, and later the National Guard, where he was a cook as well as a meat inspector. After leaving the National Guard Conlon returned to southwest North Dakota and began working in the local food service industry.
Conlon managed various meat markets in the area. During the 1980s and 90s he ran a custom retail butcher shop in Hebron, where he came up with the idea, and recipe, for the Johnny Hot Dog. That hot dog and the Johnny Burger have become his signature dishes at Johnny's Café.
When Conlon and his wife moved to Richardton they bought a house across the alley from a local restaurant.
"It was originally a grocery store, but it became a café many years ago. It then closed for a year and a half," Conlon said.
That was when he decided to buy the building and reopen the café. Conlon said it was a convenient location for him, and he looked at it as a "worthwhile adventure."
Conlon said, "We did extensive remodeling, and have added things like soft serve ice cream. We offer as much as we can."
Johnny's Café opened for the 2016 holiday season, and it now employs 10 to 12 part and full time workers.
Sean Lewis is Conlon's primary cook. Lewis said he was the first one Conlon hired for Johnny's kitchen staff. Lewis orders the meats and other supplies, but relies on Conlon for specific cooking instructions.
"I see how he wants it cooked. I spent my first night stuffing hot dogs. I learned a lot that night," laughed Lewis. "And he is picky about cleanliness. Cleanliness and safety are his main concerns."
Lewis said Johnny's Café has a following for the Johnny Hot Dogs, although he thinks there are a few more Johnny Burgers than Johnny Hot Dogs sold. Both sandwiches are best sellers at the café.
"One out of every three orders is a Johnny Burger," said Lewis.
The Johnny Hot Dog has a unique recipe, blending pork and beef in a natural casing. The meat is ground in-house, seasoned, and smoked. It is served on a Baker Boy old fashioned bun, with pickle relish and onions. The Johnny Burger is a one-third pound beef patty, also ground in-house. It, too, is served on an old fashioned bun and topped with what Conlon called "the works." He emphasized the fact that both the hot dog and the burger are all meat, with no fillers.
Lewis also manages a Facebook page for Johnny's Café, where he posts the daily specials. Recent specials have included soup and sandwiches, hot roast beef sandwiches, and meatloaf.
During the first week of February, Johnny's Café expanded its menu and began serving dinners. They now offer a wide dinner menu that includes ribeye and sirloin steaks, as well as a light menu for kids. Kids can order mini hot dogs and scaled-down slider burgers.
Johnny's Café is equipped to cater to organizations, offering meals and meeting spaces. The Richardton Lions group and the firemen have already used the facility, and Conlon plans to expand, for more meeting space.
Conlon wants to expand Johnny's Café along the back side of the building, to create additional space for meetings, parties, and banquets. During the summer he intends to put outdoor tables on the east side of the building, for coffee and dining. He said he is also planning for on and off-sale liquor "down the road."
Conlon is happy with the patronage he has received since opening last October, and he hopes to see even brisker business when spring comes. And he is happy to look across the alley from his house and see cars stopping at the café, instead of driving past an empty building.
"It was a fun opportunity," said Conlon.