Bittersweet Mother’s Day for Jill at Jill’s Joint
Jill Heinzeroth may not know what comes next when her restaurant closes, but she knows one thing for sure:
Running Jill’s Joint for the past 11 years has been a dream come true.
“This is probably the best thing I ever did in my life,” she said. “I love cooking. I love this. I love the people.
“It’s been great. I don’t go in saying I hate my job every day.”
The popular North Cape Coral gathering place will close its doors on Mother’s Day, but Heinzeroth leaves behind a legacy that won’t be forgotten.
“In the beginning, everyone was like, ‘Let’s go to Jill’s Joint,’ and it was, ‘OK, where’s Jill’s Joint?'” she said. “Now, it’s like, ‘Let’s go to Jill’s Joint,’ and they say, ‘OK, I’ll meet you there.’ So, big difference. Finally they know where it’s at.”
Jill’s Joint is tucked away in the back of the North Andalusia Industrial Park. If it weren’t for the signs guiding you, you could miss it.
Heinzeroth, who used to run business offices for hospitals, opened Jill’s Joint because she wanted to be her own boss.
“I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore,” she said and laughed. “It’s called a mid-life crisis; don’t have one.”
Heinzeroth will also tell you she’s no chef-but she does love to cook.
Jill’s Joint has been Gail Dolan’s and Rick William’s “kitchen away from home” for more than five years.
“Rick and I have become good friends with Jill and her other staff, and we are heartbroken she is closing,” Dolan said in an email.
Heinzeroth tried to keep the closing quiet, but she let it slip to a few customers. She may not know what comes next, but she knows it’s time to hang up the apron.
Heinzeroth chose not to renew her lease, and one of the reasons she decided to close is because it’s time to rest.
It’s not uncommon for her to be on her feet 14 hours a day, and she’s usually working seven days a week.
“I think she earned it to rest,” said longtime server, Petra Demko. “She’s working 60 to 70 hours a week. She never can go away and go on vacation. She never can do anything.”
But servers like Demko, and the customers Heinzeroth has met along the way, have helped keep her going.
“There are a lot of good people. A lot. And if it wasn’t for them, we couldn’t have carried on either because I can’t do it by myself,” she said.
At first, customers included people who worked at the North Andalusia Industrial Park, but once word got out about Jill’s Joint, customers began coming from all over to try Heinzeroth’s homemade comfort food.
“Everything that’s on the menu that can be homemade is homemade,” said Jill Reiter, a longtime friend and server at Jill’s Joint. “The thing that impressed me with Jill is that she has it down to almost a science. She doesn’t have a Caesar salad on here because the Caesar and romaine would be used for only one purpose.”
It’s not uncommon for diners to strike up conversations amongst themselves across tables, either, just like old friends congregating around a dining room table.
It’s also something that sets Jill’s Joint apart from other establishments.
“You don’t see it in a restaurant that much,” Heinzeroth said. “Smaller places like this, probably more prevalent. But any place else you go to, you know that’s not a bar; no, you probably don’t see that.”
There’s also nothing fancy or pretentious about Heinzeroth or Jill’s Joint.
“Just good food and company,” Dolan said.
Heinzeroth didn’t envision this “homey” concept when she first opened. It just kind of happened this way.
“I guess that’s why it’s been so nice,” she said.
Heinzeroth doesn’t think she can recreate Jill’s Joint if it was in a more prevalent location.
“No, because then you’d have to raise prices, hustle, now you’re more worried about other things,” she said. “Get them in, get them out.”
“Some people just sit and talk for a few hours and that’s OK.”
Heinzeroth has always enjoyed cooking. She made pizzas when she was younger and had some stints in bars and restaurants. She also worked in concession stands.
She says her favorite part about running Jill’s Joint throughout the years has been the people.
“I’ve met the most beautiful people out here.”
It’s not uncommon for strangers to come in for a meal and leave being friends. Heinzeroth said she sees the same people on Taco Tuesdays and certain people on Wing Wednesday.
“It’s a very heart-felt group of customers we have here,” said Reiter, a server since last summer.
“If you ever need anything, they are there for you.”
For example, one time Reiter locked her keys in her car. Five minutes later, one of the guys who works in the park came over with a jimmy to help her.
“Jill (Heinzeroth) might have a burst pipe or something in the back and all it takes is someone to walk down here and fix it for her,” Reiter said.
“You can ask anyone, she’s really one of the most caring people.”
Eight years ago, the mood at Jill’s Joint was totally different.
“On Sunday if you had 50 people in here, it was good,” Demko said. “Now we get a line out the door on Sundays.”
Heinzeroth said her fondest memories are the friendships she’s made.
She wants to thank people for making this happen for her, too.
Heinzeroth wants her employees to know how much she appreciates them, and she wants her customers to know she appreciates them just as much.
“I just want to say thank you,” she said. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here. It was a wonderful opportunity and I appreciate everyone who comes in.”
When Heinzeroth talks about owning Jill’s Joint, her eyes get brighter and she begins to smile.
She’s tried to keep the closing quiet, but she knows it’s the right decision.
“Even telling the customers now, they’re broken up by it. It’s not just a place where they come to eat,” Reiter said. “It’s a place where they come to be with people. These are their family. These are their friends. But when another door closes, another one opens.
“It’s a big life change, but this was hers,” Reiter said later. “She opened it the way she wants and she gets to close it in the way she wants.”
Jill’s Joint is at 889 N.E. 27th Lane, Unit 1