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15 Minutes with: Greg Johnsman

July 2018
15 Minutes with: Greg Johnsman
PHOTOGRAPHER: 

From running his Edisto Island farm to overseeing his breakfast-food restaurant, Millers All Day, the man behind Geechie Boy Mill catches us up on the latest

PHOTO: Greg Johnsman stands beside his 19th-century mill in the entrance of Millers All Day.

 

CM: Are you from around here?
GJ:
I was born in Ohio, but I’ve spent my whole life in South Carolina. I grew up in the Upstate town of Powdersville, then went to Clemson to study poultry science and got a master’s degree in agriculture education. In 2003, I moved with my wife, Betsy, to Edisto Island to help my father-in-law, Adair McCoy, on his farm. I’ve been here ever since.

CM: How did you get into milling?
GJ:
I’ve always been into old cars and other junk, and I was introduced to antique mills as a kid by a gentleman named Jack Brock, who was a third-generation miller from Tennessee. When I was in high school, I spent my weekends helping him, but I never thought I would make a living out of it. Then when I was selling produce to restaurants downtown, Betsy asked me, “Why don’t you fix up a mill?” So in 2007, Geechie Boy Mill was up and running. Luckily, chefs were just as interested in buying grains.

CM: How did you make the jump into restaurant ownership?
GJ:
I’ve gone through the back doors of restaurants for years, and each time I get excited to be challenged by chefs. Sean Brock travels the world and writes down lists of products that he thinks would grow well here, and we test them out. So in a roundabout way, I’ve been learning the industry. Nate Thurston and I hatched the idea for Millers All Day together: we felt that this was something the dining scene was missing, and it felt natural for us to open. I still don’t call myself a “restaurateur,” though.

CM: Why breakfast?
GJ:
We knew we wanted the restaurant to serve breakfast, because everyone has such good memories of that meal. Like all the nights in college I sat studying (or pretending to study) in a Waffle House. Or the times the sweet cafeteria lady at school would make me a BLT sandwich and throw a fried egg in it. I’ve never seen my sons happier than when they have a plate of pancakes in front of them. Everyone seems to relax when they’re given a stack of pancakes.

CM: How did you create the menu?
GJ:
Nate and I sat down with our chef, Madison Tessener, and we talked about classic dishes that we remembered from childhood and ways we could make them new while also incorporating products from the farm. All-American staples—like the Millers Plate with two eggs, bacon, grits, and a biscuit, or the home fries—have been best sellers. One of my favorites is the hoppin’ John, which uses our rice and Sea Island red peas; it’s the greatest comfort food. And Madison’s bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich with Romesco is the fanciest version I’ve ever had.

CM: What’s the story behind the mill in the window?
GJ:
The mill is from 1847. It’s fixed with a grits separator that dates back to around 1905—a guy from Wadmalaw gave it to me. The machine is too delicate for commercial milling, but it makes the best flour out of anything I’ve used. Also, whenever we run out of grits, I can mill corn here and have them to the kitchen in minutes.

CM: How do you take your grits?
GJ:
I’ll make a fresh pot of grits, crumble in a package of Jimmy Dean sausage, a bag of shredded cheese, and a can of Ro-Tel tomatoes. I call it a “pot licker,” because my family always polishes it off. I tried to get Madison to make it here, but she’s not too interested. I promise you, though, it’s the perfect combination of everything.

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Photographs courtesy of (Betsy Johnsman) Greg Johnsman