Face Behind the Place: Jill Averitt of Blue House Bakery and Café
Crazy enough, that sweet smell of success coming from Blue House Bakery and Café, the 2-year-old, family-owned business in Bryant, is a bit unexpected but very appreciated. Such is the case for first-time owners with no experience in the industry.
“I’m not sure people believe us when I say we had zero restaurant experience other than dining in one. But as we’ve learned the restaurant business, with the help from our amazing food rep and friends who are also local restaurant owners, the day-to-day operation has become much easier,” says co-owner Jill Averitt. “I had never even worked in a restaurant before opening Blue House. My sister, Joy Billson, and I had a small in-home catering business for years, but we learned quickly that this is a whole new ballgame.”
Joy and Jill talked about opening a small bakery for more than 10 years. The two have always enjoyed making and sharing meals with loved ones and now view their restaurant as an extension of that.
“We get to invite people into Blue House, feed them, and hopefully connect with them in a way that makes them feel loved and cared for, seen and heard,” she says. “If only over a cup of coffee or lunch, we see value in connecting with our community in this way.”
From the looks of a typically full parking lot, the Saline County community and beyond have embraced the concept. That includes a casual, comfortable, counter-service setting with a full coffee bar, along with a menu filled with items like muffins, cinnamon rolls and chocolate biscuits and gravy in the mornings, as well as chicken pot pie, lasagna, salads and chicken enchiladas for lunch.
“I believe it’s a place you’ll want to spend time in, due to the atmosphere we’ve created, the comfort food we serve, and the amazing customer service that our team offers,” Averitt says.
Joy runs the day-to-day operations with her son, Pryce Billson.
“Joy is the heart of the kitchen, and Pryce is general manager,” Averitt says. But that’s not all in terms of Blue House being a family affair. “My mom and two nieces also work with us, but honestly, every other employee is like family to us. They’re an amazing team. I’m so proud of the way they’ve taken our purpose and made it their own while serving our community.”
And guess what? That downhome atmosphere Averitt mentions also was a direct result of a family member offering to lend a helping hand in her area of expertise.
“My sister-in-law, Krystal Weaver, is an interior designer, and she really helped us bring our vision for Blue House to life,” Averitt says. “Her ideas for the wooden beams to give a lowered ceiling effect, the mixture of glass and brick walls in the front kitchen, and the black granite countertops were some of the suggestions she gave that just really made the space.”
It is also impossible to miss the restaurant’s signature decorative item — a massive chocolate gravy recipe hanging on one of the walls. That, too, has a story.
“We wanted to bring a part of our family into the space, which we did with family pictures, but I knew we would be serving our grandmother’s chocolate gravy and thought it would be a nice tribute to her by displaying her handwritten recipe card on the wall,” she says. “It’s one of the first things people comment on when they enter the bakery, and it makes me smile and think of her every single time I see it.”
Blue House’s Highway 5 location has proven to be a great home. By the looks of things, Averitt and her team could use a little more space and a few more parking spaces, but all in all, the location is a winner.
“We really had no idea what we were doing or how the community would embrace us, but we’ve definitely made the best of our square footage and continue to make investments and changes to better improve efficiency within the bakery,” says Averitt, who’s also been blown away by the local community. “Saline County is amazing. We feel like they’ve welcomed us with open arms. Blue House is like a new child in many ways. My sister and I birthed this thing without any knowledge of ‘parenting,’ and this community has been our ‘village.’ They don’t just show up and order a coffee. They encourage us with their words and actions. They’ve allowed us to become a part of the community and carried us through a pandemic. COVID hit right about the time we felt like we were finally getting the hang of things. As everyone in food service knows, you had to reinvent yourself quickly, sometimes daily. There were days customers would write a check for the amount we needed to just break even for the day. Those first several months were all about surviving. This community helped us not only survive but thrive.”
For Averitt, the rewards of restaurant ownership seem endless, but once again, that prevailing theme of family stands out.
“The most rewarding thing for me has been the opportunity to work alongside my family, the relationships that have come through opening Blue House, as well as the opportunity to bring my daughters up in a business that, as a family, we built from scratch,” she says. “They’ve made many sacrifices over the last two years, as their mama practically lived at the bakery in the beginning. Now, they’re able to come to work with me and see the fruits of our labor. They love to be at the restaurant and help in any way they can. My youngest says she might even want to own a Blue House of her own someday, and that just makes me incredibly happy. I would love nothing more.”
While that’s far down the road, in the immediate future, Averitt and her team have their sights set on a potential second location in the upcoming year. That’s if they can survive a busy November at the bakery.
“I do expect November to be a busy month,” she says. “We can make the holidays easier in the way of providing your side dishes and desserts. One of our most popular side dishes is our great grandmother’s sweet potato casserole.”
See, family saves the day yet again.
Quick Bites with Jill
1. What is your favorite dish on the Thanksgiving table?
Forget the turkey, I’m really a sides girl. I could eat my weight in homemade cranberry sauce and dressing. I also feel like this is a good time to mention I don’t like anything with pumpkin or pecans, so I bring my own cherry pie to Thanksgiving dinner.
2. What is one thing about yourself that not many people know about? I love to fly fish. It’s my husband’s favorite hobby, so I decided to be a good wife one year and book a fly fishing trip for him on our anniversary. I thought it would be special if I joined him in doing something he loved. Little did I know, I would love it, too!
3. What was your first pet?
I’ve never had a pet. (This is where you gasp and secretly judge me.) I do have children, which keep my heart and hands extremely full.
4. Are you a late sleeper or early riser?
I love me some sleep. I’m definitely not a natural early riser. I prefer people talk to me around 10 a.m. Obviously, the hours at the bakery don’t allow that, so I’ve done my best to embrace early mornings.
5. How many tattoos do you have?
I have zero tattoos. The needles, the permanence, I just can’t do it.
6. Where is your favorite place to travel?
I love Costa Rica. My family of four travels there yearly for mission trips in the mountains. Between the beautiful people and the beautiful rainforest, it’s one of my absolute favorite places on earth.