Coffee helps perk up Hill City visitors, residents

By Jeff Smith

Left to right, Sarah Polley, Jan Johnson and Desarae Hillyer at Perky Pine Cafe on April 6. All three contributed to the idea of having a cozy coffee shop at Pine Rest Cabins.

It is great for any thriving community to have a local coffee shop. The space that has been carved out for the cafe is cozy but won’t make people feel claustrophobic.

It’s a nice, welcoming setting with wood floors and comfortable chairs. Being able to sit down and enjoy a cup of joe is a huge plus as many coffee shops have started to trend to being drive-thrus.

Jan Johnson who runs Pine Rest Cabins with her husband Steve said the idea was brewing for quite awhile before anything got started. The building where the cafe is was home for the Johnsons before the cafe idea came up. The current set-up has been in place for a couple of years. Creating the cafe space was a gradual change, Johnson said. She said it was an interesting challenge and her children learned a lot about construction.

Perky Pine Cafe will have been in operation for a year this June.

Perky Pine Cafe grew out of enthusiasm and a joint effort between the owners and the employees there.

Desarae Hillyer and Sarah Polley really initiated the whole cafe addition idea. 

Hillyer helped create the drink recipes. Polley is the muffin master at the cafe.

Hillyer has experience working in coffee shops and boosted up that side of the cafe.

A past employee, Darian Cooley, also helped create the idea for the cafe.

“She worked for us for two years and was really instrumental in getting this space ready to go,” Johnson said.

Johnson said they weren’t too outspoken about the cafe when it first opened.

“We had a real soft opening and we didn’t advertise outside of this place,” Johnson said.

The guests were the first customers but it didn’t take long for other people to want to stop in. Johnson can now say that the cafe has regulars. A few groups in town have met in the meeting room too. Johnson has been encouraged by the local support.

“It’s been a good experience. There’s been a lot of people that come out of the hills that live here and didn’t know we were here,” Johnson said.

She said there is a difficult balance to not do all of the work but be able to keep employees busy as well as generate enough money to be able to keep them.

Polley said people always comment on the atmosphere in the lobby/ cafe. She thinks the antiques that are there add a lot to the space too.

Tea, coffee and lattes take up a large section of the Perky Pine menu. Johnson said all of the speciality lattes they have are highly requested.

Hillyer said the Black Hills Butter Bean drink is popular when she is at the coffee shop. This is a latte with caramel and butterscotch flavors.

Polley said she has found people like the French Creek Latte which is a latte with steamed milk, vanilla and caramel.

“When I’m in here it’s always something with mocha,” Johnson said.

The speciality drinks have a Black Hills theme which Johnson created.

All of the coffee drinks are made from scratch and the beans come from Dark Canyon Coffee. Different ingredients for the drinks come from Krull’s Market. They also brew and sell Native American Teas. A new item they have been trying to perfect is chai.

In addition to coffee and tea they have muffins and cinnamon rolls. Cinnamon rolls have only been in the works for about a month.

“People are asking for breakfast and different items but we need to keep our menu simple enough that we can handle it all,” Johnson said.

Johnson said they are going to stay with what they have on the menu for awhile.

If people are hungry there is always something of substance there. Gluten-free protein bars are always on hand.

“We want to add some gluten-free options to the menu but we’re not sure what they’re going to be yet,” Johnson said. “It’s a big need.”

Pine Rest Cabins has been serving guests that come to Hill City for 26 years.

The season for the cabins used to be June 15 to August 15.

“But as we extended into the winter months sometimes we would check guests into the kitchen table,” Johnson said.

But they eventually ended up building a front desk area. Over the years there have also been improvements made to the cabins.

There is a small window businesses have in creating changes.

“Doing the projects ourselves stretches it out longer than you would expect and is different from a clean piece of property that has nothing else going on with it,” Johnson said.

The Johnsons have also learned to balance the work at the cafe as well as work on the cabins.

Everybody that has come in has been patient with the Johnsons as they are learning, too, although most of the people in Hill City don’t have a need to rush around.

Right now the hours for the cafe are 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. except for Sunday when they close down. In the summer the hours for the cafe will be extended.