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Proud To Be a WLRA Member: Johnson Restaurant Group

John Johnson, current President of the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association and owner of Johnson Restaurant Group based in Casper has been in the restaurant business for many years.

“I started in 1978 with a Daylight Doughnut shop and did that for about 10 years,” Johnson says. “By 1988, I just wasn’t making much money and was barely getting by.” So he decided to venture out on his own and opened Granny’s Doughnuts and Ice Cream. Having been a “burger flipper” for Red Barn Restaurant in high school, he added burgers and milkshakes to the menu and changed the name to Granny’s Diner. “Granny’s was what truly started the Johnson Restaurant Group.”

“Due to overwhelming popularity, we purchased the property across the street from our original location to build a new and improved diner called ‘Johnny J’s,’ Johnson says. “Also during that time from 1995 to 1999, I ran Café José’s,” he says, a casual Mexican restaurant.

As business took off, Johnson ventured into other restaurants, starting with Eggington’s in downtown Casper, a modern breakfast, brunch and lunch eatery offering unique takes on classic menu items which he has since sold. “After Eggington’s came our first Old Chicago restaurant in Casper followed by another Old Chicago location in Cheyenne.” In the years since, he has added Firerock Steakhouse in Casper, a Famous Dave’s in east Casper, an Old Chicago in Gillette and converted the second Johnny J’s diner on Casper’s west side to a new concept which has proved quite popular, J’s Pub & Grill.

“I spent the first ten years figuring out how to be successful in this business,” Johnson says, “and since 1988 we’ve been building the company into what it is today.”

When asked about his philosophy, Johnson says “I’m an opportunist; I look for opportunities and when I see one, I like to grab it and go. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve always had an ability to attract good people to work with me so I have been able to build great management teams, and that has helped me grow my business; because I can trust my people to run the day to day operations, I have time to work on my next project.”

Like his business ventures, his involvement in the WLRA started slowly. “I just didn’t know anything about WLRA in the beginning,” Johnson admits. “But then Lynn (Birleffi) and the membership director at the time sat me down and told me about all the benefits and it was very clear that this was something we needed to be successful.”

Johnson values each of the money saving benefits offered by the WLRA and uses as many of them as he can in each of his restaurants, including the credit card processing discounts and health insurance. “I am also very active in the ongoing government affairs work that the WLRA does, as I fully know the importance of having a voice to protect our industry from negative legislation.”

Johnson also places particular emphasis on the camaraderie he finds in the WLRA. “The ability to network and share ideas with other hospitality professionals throughout the state at our events is invaluable and a lot of fun!”

“The WLRA is truly an incredible value and I’m honored to be involved as I am,” he says. “If you’re in this business, you need all the help you can get, and the WLRA is a great place to start.”

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