LACONIA — Dave Perry, proprietor and chef at Jilly's Bistro, can trace the opening of the city's newest eatery back to an unhappy event that occurred in 2007: an accident that ended his career as a construction worker.
"I had a tree fall on top of me," he said, grimacing. Injuries from the incident required him to hang up his tools for several years while his body healed from both the accident and the several surgeries aimed at relieving the discomfort which he still experiences. However, Perry, who served in the U.S. Army during the Operation Desert Storm, wasn't content with life in a recliner. "I started dabbling in some courses at Lakes Region Community College, next thing I know, I started on my path to getting my degree in culinary arts."
A native of Lowell, Mass. who moved to Ossipee about a decade ago, Perry signed up for a cooking class on a whim. He was shocked by how much he enjoyed the program. "To me, it was more like hanging out and having fun everyday than like going to school... The staff there is just awesome."
"I really didn't think that I would end up hanging around long enough to get my degree," continued Perry. "I was constantly amazed at what I was learning, how much there really is to know, how much is involved in this industry."
While Perry was sharpening his culinary skills, his father happened to pass through Lakeport Square and noticed that the building at 777 Union Avenue was for sale. He decided the price was too good to pass, and so he purchased the property. The building had once been a five and dime store, more recently was an antique shop, and was not ready to be a restaurant when Perry first set foot inside. Since 2008, Perry and his friends from his construction days have been effecting a transformation to what it is now. The polished floorboards and tin ceiling hint at the building's history but Perry's hard work is evident elsewhere. The result is a Boston-themed sports bar, one that Perry said reminds him of his favorite haunts of his younger days.
"When I first started, I really didn't know what I wanted it to be," said Perry. He had spent hours upon hours traveling through Laconia, collecting menus and tallying the various types of eateries nearby. He had interned under chef Scott Ouellette at Canoe in Center Harbor, and with Oullette's O Steak and Seafood restaurant, he knew he didn't want to compete in the fine dining arena. He knew he wanted a hardwood bar in the center of the dining room, though, and it was when he was working on that project that his vision began to take shape. "It got me thinking of places I went to growing up in Lowell, the sports bars there, things I really enjoyed."
The menu he created matches the venue: onion rings, wings, steak and cheese subs. There's some signature touches, too. Perry was stationed in New Orleans for part of his military service, and his muffaletta sandwich and deep-fried pickles came back with him. He expects his hamburger, featuring a patty of chuck mixed with brisket, will become a favorite on his menu. Sandwiches are served with house-made potato chips. At Jilly's, Perry thinks he's offering something that didn't previously exist, a neighborhood spot for a sandwich and a ball game. "I wanted people to feel like they could afford to come in here, watch a game, eat some bar food... It's blue-collar, that's what I like about it. It's not anything fancy, especially with the way the economy is. I want people to be able to stop in and eat with their kids."
Jilly's Bistro, which Perry named after his sister, is open Thursday through Monday, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
CAPTION for JILLY'S in AA:
Dave Perry, owner and chef of Jilly's Bistro, recently opened his establishment in Lakeport after earning a culinary degree from Lakes Region Community College. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)