For Juston Johnson ’02, hunger was the master of invention. The staff meetings he attended as an undergraduate supervisor at Gordon Commons featured free pizza, an unwelcome sight to his picky palate. He detests tomatoes and, hence, tomato sauce.
Johnson started experimenting in the dining hall kitchen by topping breadsticks with melted cheese. He continued refining the recipe to create what came to be called Juston Stix — a cheesy delight baked to bubbly perfection that has become a staple among undergrads living in residence halls.
Juston Stix start with hand-stretched pizza dough, topped with one-quarter cup of garlic butter, a layer of Parmesan cheese, “a little” mozzarella (though it looks like more to an observer in the kitchen), and another layer of Parmesan before going into a gas-fired oven.
It’s apparent that this food is designed for people under a certain age with good metabolism.
The creation’s popularity was certain last fall, when the new Gordon Dining and Event Center opened for business — without Juston Stix on the menu. Despite thirteen food and beverage stations, including an omelet bar and coffee shop, hungry students were distressed that their favorite comfort food was missing.
“They freaked out,” says chef Jamie Esser, at right, who estimates that he makes fifty to sixty batches of the breadsticks each Friday and Saturday night since they were restored to the menu last November. They are also sold at Rheta’s Market in Chadbourne Hall and at Carson’s Market in the remodeled Carson Gulley Center near the lakeshore residence halls.
To get Juston Stix added to the menu back in 1997, Johnson had to complete paperwork and present his recipe, including nutritional information, to University Housing. The night before he submitted his proposal, he had yet to name them. His roommates suggested a way to honor the unusual spelling of his first name.
By the time Johnson graduated, he was told that his creation outsold pizza whenever both were offered. A Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, native who now works as executive director for the Republican Party of Florida, he says the Stix’s popularity is not a mystery.
“They’re loaded with butter and cheese,” he says. “What’s not to love? It is Wisconsin, after all.”