Driving by Killian’s in Spearfish, the facility looks the same from the outside, but inside, new creativity and collaboration are brewing.
Killian’s Food & Drink, formerly Killian’s Tavern & Steakhouse, located at 539 W. Jackson Blvd., is a Spearfish favorite, where locals know they can get a unique, creative and delicious meal, with a cold craft brew.
Nick Caton opened Killian’s in 2012, and since then, it has allowed his creative spirit to reflect his menu and atmosphere, and a new spirit of globalism has arrived on the menu.
“I wasn’t even sure what I was starting,” Caton said when he opened Killian’s. “I just knew there was an opportunity.”
The previous restaurant on the site was a steakhouse, so when Caton first opened it, he kept to the roots. Now, it has grown to offer a wide variety of creative menu options from hand-crafted burgers to one-of-a-kind appetizers and other specialized menu items.
Caton was looking for a way to continue evolving Killian’s, as well as make upgrades to the facility, and it resulted in a new partnership in early January.
Mona Jackson, also of Spearfish, bought the Killian’s building at the beginning of the year and with the purchase, she and Caton have formed a partnership that both say will enhance dining opportunities and culinary creativity.
“I really use the word collaboration,” Caton said. “I wasn’t done evolving into what I wanted Killian’s to be. I knew it was no longer the Killian’s Tavern & Steakhouse concept I started, so now it’s an opportunity to do whatever we want. We want to be creative and have fun and use the whimsy and creative to make a new concept that is flexible and moving.”
Jackson will help with the financials and marketing of the restaurant. Killian’s recently put up a new sign reading Killian’s Food & Drink, and Caton and Jackson have already started offering new menu items and special events to patrons.
While keeping all the customer favorites, including burgers and steaks, Caton and Jackson want to expand to offer vegan and vegetarian options, as well as Indian and Thai dishes.
“Meat and potatoes — while that’s fine and great, there are so many other desires,” Caton said. “Vegetarian, vegan, Paleo and gluten free options are so important to diners. I’ve been doing some of that naturally for so many years because I cook from scratch, but this is an opportunity to outline that in the menu.”
Killian’s is known for its rotating and evolving menu, and while Caton and Jackson have been experimenting with new dishes, Jackson said they are not sure which new dishes will stay on the permanent menu and which will be rotating specials.
“Right now we’re taking the time to explore and see how people are reacting,” Jackson said.
Killian’s tested new Indian dishes at the annual Taste of Spearfish in January, including their tandoori chicken skewers, a roasted chicken with a yogurt and spice tandoori marinade. Jackson showed Caton how to make the traditional Indian dish, which is now available on Killian’s appetizer menu.
For Jackson, the collaboration with Caton is a return to roots. Her family owned an Indian restaurant called “Nirvana” in Charlottesburg, Va. Her mother and grandmother cooked, while she ran the front of the house.
“I really enjoyed that experience; it was really hard work, because restaurant business is very difficult work,” Jackson said. “I really enjoyed working with my customers, getting to know them, just the feeling of satisfaction that someone came in, had a good meal and enjoyed themselves and I got to be a part of that experience.”
Jackson, who has an accounting background, moved to Spearfish in 2014, when her husband, Tom Jackson, Jr. accepted a position as the President of Black Hills State University. At the time she never thought of returning to the restaurant business.
“It never crossed my mind in all these years,” Jackson said. “But I knew this was a town for opportunity.”
Caton, who also owns Barbacoa’s in Spearfish, met Jackson through catering events at BHSU. A friendship formed and Jackson often went to Caton to bounce around ideas. Their conversations segued into a possible partnership at Killian’s.
Caton also has an extensive background in the kitchen, working in restaurants much of his life. His experience cooking in a variety of restaurants from sushi to European infusion dining has helped him tailor a creative eatery for Spearfish residents and visitors.
“I’m really passionate about hospitality. I love the instant gratification of doing a job well done and knowing it immediately,” Caton said. “I love the ferocity of the business, and the idea that only the top persevere. It’s a lifestyle choice.”
His vast experience in a variety of dishes has allowed Killian’s to host special sushi nights, Indian nights and a Rasta Pasta night, which featured reggae music and noodle dishes.
“In Spearfish I just love the atmosphere we have,” he said. “We’re isolated and it provides us with options for a concept. I don’t have to fall into any one niche. As long as I’m putting out a good product, people respond to that.”
With a new partnership comes new events. Killian’s hosted a six-week music series featuring Spearfish and regional musicians. Killian’s also offers a build-your-own Bloody Mary and mimosa bar coupled with a limited brunch menu on Saturdays and Sundays. Caton recommends patrons follow Killian’s Facebook page to see upcoming events and featured menus.
And although there have been small changes coming to Killian’s, Killian’s is still Killian’s.
“I’m really enjoying my partnership with Nick,” Jackson said. “He’s learning from me and I’m learning form him. We compliment each other in terms of our skill sets.”
“Everything about us is different in every way. That’s the beauty of this business. We still want good food, good drink and good hospitality.” There’s a way to make that mean fun for everyone.”