JILLIAN’S RESTAURANT, WHICH is under new leadership, is located at 200 South Fulton St. Joe Schulz photo
by Joe Schulz
When Mark Lemke and Alys Wild met at a Grateful Dead concert in the 1990s, they never imagined that one day they’d be married and co-owners of a restaurant.
The couple recently relocated from Minneapolis to Princeton in order to become the new owners of Jillian’s Restaurant, which reopened June 2.
While running a restaurant has been a lifelong dream of both Lemke and Wild, putting their own spin on the eatery provided a unique set of challenges.
The interior was repainted, new equipment was brought in, a new fire protection system was installed, the floor behind the counter was replaced and a fireproof coating was placed on the walls behind cooking equipment.
Wild noted Chris Mans and Alex Diamond also were instrumental in remodeling the restaurant before its grand opening. In addition, Amber Mans helped redecorate, painting murals in the bathrooms.
“This really wouldn’t be the place that is without them because they contributed creative ideas and suggestions every step of the way,” Wild said.
Lemke and Wild have a wealth of experience in the restaurant business, as both have worked in a variety of restaurants across the United States.
Lemke has previously served as executive chef at Como Lakeside Pavilion in St. Paul, Minn.
“That place was like 50,000 square feet, and they served New Orleans-style food and had some bands play out there,” Lemke said.
Wild earned a culinary arts degree from the first accredited vegetarian program in the United States.
She attended the Institute of Culinary Education’s Natural Gourmet Center in New York City.
“I already had a lot of restaurant experience, so that taught me more the dynamics of the business,” Wild said.
Prior to culinary school, she worked for a restaurant in Key West, and after culinary school she worked at Ricky’s Blue Heaven.
Throughout the job changes, it’s always been Wild’s dream to own her own restaurant because of her deep passion for cooking.
“I like cooking good food for people and I like seeing them enjoy what I’ve created,” Wild said.
Enjoying a meal at Jillian’s Restaurant are, from left, Jessica Stelter, Amara Stelter, Kiley Vine and Kelly Jorgensen. Joe Schulz photo
After finishing culinary school, she moved to Minneappolis to take care of her mother. It was there that she reconnected with Lemke.
The duo returned to Wisconsin after Wild’s mother passed with the intention of opening a restaurant.
They began looking for a location, when someone suggested they look at Jillian’s Restaurant. Lemke and Wild checked out the space and decided that it was the perfect location to launch their business.
“Both my parents have passed and we inherited some money, so we couldn’t really [have] done this without their help,” Wild said.
The eatery will continue to operate under the name “Jillian’s Restaurant” until fall, when the name will be changed to either “Wild’s Water Street Kitchen” or “Wild’s Water Street Grill.”
“We’re not sure at this point of which name we want to use,” Wild said.
Currently, the menu is the same as Jillian’s traditional menu, but when the name changes, Lemke and Wild plan to introduce their own menu, which will have more of an emphasis on smokehouse barbecue.
The restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Wild noted the rewarding part of running her own eatery is getting to be her own boss.
“Both of us have worked for other people for a long time, and now we’re finally working for ourselves,” Wild said.
Overall, the couple hopes the business grows into a community gathering place, where people can bond over good food.
“We just want to be a community staple and a good place for people to eat and see each other,” Lemke said.