EDINBURG – With long hair, strong beards and an aversion to the traditional chef’s jacket, Jason Burns, 36, and Dennis Stickley, 28, don’t match the typical chef archetype.
But, the two long-time friends are now co-owners of the Edinburg Mill Restaurant that celebrated its grand opening Wednesday. And for them, it’s a dream come true.
“What better job could you have than to cook food and eat food?” Burns said.
“And now we get to do it for ourselves,” Stickley added.
The two have been hunting for a restaurant of their own for the past two years now, finally settling on the mill because of its affordable rent, the supportive community and the cultural significance of the location.
The dining room, in particular, speaks to the mill’s history, with low, wooden beams and old mill machinery decorating the walls and ceiling. Burns said they tried to match their cuisine to the room’s historic ambience.
“The room — it’s old and rustic, and that’s kind of how we cook,” he said. “We’re old school, we cook rustically.”
That means prioritizing flavor over presentation, Stickley said. Beets are round, so they won’t be cut into squares. Dishes are cooked in cast iron. Instead of bread rolls at each table, customers will see pumpkin muffins, like previous owners of the Edinburg Mill Restaurant used to serve back in the 1970s.
Burns and Stickley plan on starting by hiring nine or 10 servers, some of them completely new, who will help with tasks ranging anywhere from seating guests to bussing tables.
The restaurant will be open Wednesday through Sunday, serving three meals a day: breakfast, 7–10 a.m.; lunch, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and dinner, 4–9 p.m.
After years of working together and in various roles, the two have developed an adept conflict-resolution method: Put their egos aside and come up with the best decision. It sounds simple, and the duo has mastered the execution.
“We have the same vision, and now we have the same goal,” Burns said. “We both respect the other one enough that it’s never a matter of who’s right or who’s wrong, you know? We each have an opinion … and usually when we form whatever we form out of that, it ends up being pretty good.”
Throughout their experience in the restaurant industry, Burns and Stickley have lost jobs and positions because they refused to snip their long hair. But now that they’re in charge of their own business, the duo agreed to give everyone a chance —bearded, tattooed, pierced, whatever.
“You see people all the time who, they’re young or they’re in school or they have no experience, nobody gives them a chance,” Burns said. “And I’ve seen a lot of people, who most people wouldn’t take a chance on, turn out to be really good at what they do … We’re going to give everybody who wants a chance a chance. If it works out, it works out, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. We’re going to be fair.”