Updated: Jun 9
Through winding back country roads that John Denver would blush at, you’ll find the sweet serenade that will lead you to Johnny B’s Lakeshore Grill & Pizza. If the smells radiating from Johnny B’s kitchen don’t bring you back for more, the laughter and conversation with the owner sure will. While he is a fairly busy man, Johnny loves his customers. “I love people. I love people coming in my door and telling me my food is great,” Johnny said. “When people come in here they feel like family.” After knowing Johnny B for several years now, this statement is definitely one that is true. I would make my way out to his restaurant to cheer on the Blackhawks and also to catch a Sunday afternoon Packers game. Whether I made a solo trip or was with a group of friends, Johnny and his wife Trish always made me feel welcome. It still amazes me sometimes that the Cheers theme song doesn’t start playing when you walk through the door.
Johnny has been cooking for as long as he can remember. “My mother lived in a family that owned restaurants,” he said. “She taught me how to cook when I was around seven. She would go to work and I would come home to make lunch for me and my brothers.” Johnny didn’t start cooking professionally until he was 36, but that didn’t stop him from cooking for his family and friends when he was younger. “My mom would be at work, so what did I do? I’d invite the whole block in to eat,” Johnny said with a smile. “That’s how I learned how to cook for more than just us.” Johnny could tell if he was a good cook or not judging by how many friends came back the following time for a meal. “I never made ‘em sick.”
Johnny B’s Lakeshore Grill & Pizza has been open since 2008 and doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. With a new beer garden recently installed and the remodeling of the bar done over the winter, Johnny B has kept himself busy. “Don’t buy a resort if you want to retire,” Johnny said jokingly. This was made fairly evident when I drove onto the property to conduct this very interview. Johnny was on a Bobcat while working on the entryway to his restaurant. He looked down at his watch as I rolled down the window. “It’s that time already?” he said and he quickly put the Bobcat in gear and followed me back to his barbeque sanctuary. It’s not always a grind though for Johnny. He finds many perks in owning a resort, campground and restaurant. “I get to do what I like. I love what I’m doing. I love cooking. I love being with people...most of the time,” he said. “That’s why we do a good job here, because we love what we’re doing.” When I asked Johnny what he does in his “free time”, he just chuckled and said, “people come in and ask me where the best fishing is and I have no clue. I haven’t fished in fifteen years.” While he may no longer have time to hunt and fish like he used to love doing, “I love this more than hunting,” he said.
After asking Johnny some questions about his life and business, I decided to hit him with a knee buckler of a question for a cook. “You’re scheduled for the electric chair. What’s your last meal?” His response? “I’d probably have a deep dish Chicago style pizza.” Spoken like a true gentleman from the Windy City.
As both locals and tourists make their way out to Johnny B’s to grab a drink with friends or to share a meal together, they’ll never feel like they left home. “Come out here and meet us,” Johnny said. “If you don’t know me, come in and give me a hug or a handshake and I’ll give you one right back. We thank you for not only supporting us here, but online as well.” One might be weary to give Johnny a hug on a barbecue buffet night, but hey, they make laundry detergent for a reason. Enjoy your John Denver backroads serenade and make your way out to Johnny B’s to become part of the family.