Meet Your Merchant: Js’ Bistro staff gets creative working toward success |

Meet Your Merchant: Js’ Bistro staff gets creative working toward success

Jim Grant/Nevada AppealJs' Old Town Bistro chef Ken Drumm and manager Lonna Kealoha said working as a team and being creative helps bring people back to the restaurant.

Js’ Bistro opened its doors four years ago inside a 141-year-old building along Dayton’s historical district that has housed everything from an auto garage, seedy corner bar and ice cream parlor.

Before opening in 2007, co-owner Jerry Massad said the Italian restaurant conducted a massive remodel of the structure with the exception of some historical keepsakes.

“The doors are original, you don’t see clear pine like that anymore,” said Massad, who also owns Carson City’s 30-year-old Cracker Box. “That’s all virgin lumber from Lake Tahoe. We just restored them. They had 15 coats of paint on them, the last color was purple.”

And like the changing store fronts inside the building, Massad said he and co-owner Jackie Behan have faced their share of growing pains and market fluctuations since opening their doors. It’s a challenge their staff of seven aren’t backing down from.

Among them is Ken Drumm, 36, who joined the restaurant last summer as its chef and is working on a new menu.

The restaurant specializes in Italian-styled dishes such as chicken marsala, Tuscan pork stew, a variety of pastas and Italian Nachos, which are fried pasta chips, Italian sausage and mozzarella cheese with tomato bruschette. Meals cost between $11 and $21, which include soup or salad, and appetizers between $6 and $8.

Drumm had been working at a restaurant in a Carson City casino when he saw the ad for the chef position at Js’ Bistro.

“I sent in my resume and the next day he hired me,” Drumm said. “It’s been awesome. The most rewarding restaurant business I’ve ever worked in.”

Lonna Kealoha, 36, the front of the house manager for the restaurant since it opened, was working an office job when Behan called her and offered her the position. Like Drumm, she’s a veteran of the restaurant industry.

“For me it’s fun because I love people,” Kealoha said. “I love talking to people, and learning who they are, what their favorites are, just their life. You get to know them like they’re family.”

And like any restaurant in a small town, Js’ Bistro has relied on local, repeat customers to keep its doors open.

“They’ve been very good to us,” she said.

When Massad set out to create Js’ Bistro, he was looking to make an affordable family-style restaurant, “but what we’re turning into isn’t that anymore. It’s changing into an affordable date-night restaurant,” he said.

For example, the restaurant offers half-off all drinks and appetizers from 4-6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sundays.

“We’re getting better at it,” Massad said.

Kealoha adds, “I feel it’s better because of the team we have now. We’re getting ‘wows’ instead of just ‘OKs’, and repeat business, too.”

Drumm said he’s having fun in the kitchen nowadays – this week he decided to make a filet mignon with a scallop scampi sauce.

“I’ve learned I’ve held my creativity back for too long and I’m not going to do it anymore,” he said.

Massad said that lesson applies to everyone at the restaurant.

“We’re all becoming more creative at trying to create business and trying to do more to entice people to come in,” he said. “It used to be you could just open your doors and people would just flock in, but it’s not like that anymore. Now you have to fight for it.”