After a lifetime of work, Briggsville’s Susan and Craig Hilliard move on from the Pheasant Inn

May 3, 2019

BRIGGSVILLE — After a lifetime of work and 49 years of ownership, Susan and Craig Hilliard have finalized the sale of Briggsville’s Pheasant Inn, and are ready to move into a life of retirement.

The couple bought the inn from Susan’s parents in 1970, and ran it alongside their three children until last week. According to Susan, although they still love the day-to-day work of running the restaurant, the physical demands were too much at their age.

“We can’t do the work anymore. We love the business, we love the people, but we just can’t do it anymore, physically,” Susan said. “We’re 74 years old, and that’s a little old to be working 14 hours a day.”

Susan and Craig came by retirement honestly. For the 49 years they owned it, and the 15 years Susan worked there under her parents, the Pheasant Inn was open at least six days a week, seven during the summer.

Susan, or “Grandma Pie” as she’s known to her family, reminisces happily about growing up and living her life at the Pheasant Inn. Sitting in her immaculately-appointed dining room, surrounded by memorabilia from her life, she speaks with pride about her life running the business.

Susan also is a highly skilled painter. Hanging in her dining room is a painting of the original Pheasant Inn as it stood in 1854, which she created from a postcard. In the early 20th century, a fire that started in the barn behind the building burned it to ash, and it was rebuilt as it stands today.

“As the story goes, a lantern fell over in the hay and started the barn on fire, and it burned everything down,” Susan said. “It only took a year for the actual Pheasant Inn we have now to be built.”

The building itself has a fascinating history; in the early 1930s, Chicago concert pianist Otto Beyer bought the structure and turned it into an exclusive getaway for wealthy Chicagoans. When he passed away not too long after, his widow sold the property to Susan’s parents, and it remained in the family for decades.

Although Susan and Craig dedicated much of their time to the Pheasant Inn, it was not the entire life. The two of them also worked as EMTs, leaving their kids to run the inn when calls came in. Additionally, Susan worked on the governor’s snowmobile council, appointed by two different governors, and served as the town chair.

“We wanted to make the town be a bit progressive,” Susan said. “So I wrote some grants and got a parking lot for the fire department and a field for the baseball diamond.”

Even in retirement, Susan and Craig keep busy. For the last 25 years, Susan, a devout Catholic, has been responsible for Briggsville’s shrine to Saint Philomena. She intends to continue overseeing it in retirement, and has a painting of Philomena hanging in her dining room. She says that a vision of the painting came to her in a dream, and after painting it, the church in Rome put her painting on an official prayer card.

Susan speaks about everything in her life with passion and detail. When asked to talk about the shrine to Saint Philomena, Craig gave a soft chuckle.

“You got a couple hours?” he said.

With the Hilliards ready to move into the next phase of their lives, the future of the Pheasant Inn is uncertain. The buyers, identifying themselves as a married couple with young children, released an anonymous statement through real estate agent Will Meissner.

“The restaurant will not be open as a supper club for the foreseeable future,” the buyers said in the statement. “(We) are undecided at the moment about the location’s future but the amazing building and history will be put to good use.”