This fifth-generation rancher works to keep Jackson’s ranching legacy and small town character alive, one burger, steak, and shake at a time.
// By Sofia McGulick
When Nikki Gill’s father, Robert Gill, was growing up, there were about 70 working cow-calf operations in Jackson Hole. Today there are five, including the Gill family’s Jackson Hole Hereford Ranch, which was founded by Gill’s great grandfather, Bruce Porter, in the late 1920s and which Gill has worked since she was a kid. Now 35-years-old, she still helps out on the ranch during busy times like branding, but she is most active behind the scenes as the ranch’s director of sales and marketing.
In 2015, to create a new market for the ranch’s beef, she started a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program that allowed locals and visitors to buy it directly and at local farmer’s markets. In 2018, with siblings Patrick and Jessica, Gill opened a restaurant, Jackson Drug, on the Town Square. “It buys a ton of beef from the ranch,” she says, laughing. “I invoice myself. Recently, I began charging myself more.”
For Gill, Jackson Drug is about so much more than beef though. The name and location have even more history for her family—and for Jackson Hole—than the JHHR. Before great-grandpa Porter was a rancher, he was a pharmacist, the valley’s first. An entrepreneur, he thought it would be good business to have a soda fountain in his pharmacy. Jackson Drug and Original Soda Fountain opened on the Town Square in 1919. It quickly became the place for kids to hang out; the Porters owned and ran it until 1978 (it moved across the square to the location of today’s restaurant in 1938). New owners kept the pharmacy and soda fountain going until 2001, when they closed the business and sold the building. “I know that at that time, for a lot of locals, Jackson Drug’s closing was like a nail in the coffin of Jackson’s past,” Gill says. “It was such an iconic Jackson business for so many years and played such a crucial role in the childhoods of so many locals.”
In 2010, the Gill family bought the building back. “I was in college at the time, and we didn’t have any concrete plans to bring Jackson Drug back, but it was definitely a dream,” Gill says. The dream—evolved to being a full restaurant to suit the Gill siblings’ interests (none of them are pharmacists)—became reality July 13, 2018. “Old timers came in with tears in their eyes,” Gill says about the first months the restaurant was open. “The soda fountain that they had spent so much of their childhoods at was back.”
Uniting Bruce Porter’s two businesses, today’s Jackson Drug serves shakes, sundaes, and malts, and burgers and steaks from JHHR cattle. Bestsellers are the huckleberry ice cream and the classic beef burger with American cheese. Not ordered as frequently but appreciated by those in the know, is the egg salad sandwich, which was available at the original soda fountain going back as far as anyone can remember. “Our recipe now isn’t exactly the same, but we tried to make it as classic as possible,” Gill says. “It’s unfussy, like Jackson used to be.” JH