Great West Grill -
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A Behind-The-Scenes Look at CJ's Great West Grill in
This gem of a family-friendly restaurant takes on a entirely different approach than the typical American restaurant, courtesy of a talented woman in a pink chef's jacket
CJ's Great West Grill.
Article by Eric Hurwitz, @newenglandinfo.
created on 11/1/2019.
As the Steve Miller Band's
spirited, celebratory "Living in the USA" plays in the background, customers at CJ's
Great West Grill happily feast on America's diverse, regional cuisine
without ever having to leave Manchester, N.H.
England, Southern, Midwest, Southwest or Californian, the cuisines
resonate with authenticity and a loving approach to preparation,
presentation and what the palate innately loves. It's like each meal is
three-dimensional -- that is, enlivening the plate with colorful, aromatic and
This wasn't supposed to happen, however,
at a restaurant located on a busy commercial road filled with chain
stores and restaurants. Fortunately, CJ's Great West Grill has broken that
chain to give customers a roadmap to America's
favorite roadside foods under one roof. No borders exist here to impede the
types of down-home American fare that people love.
The look of the restaurant and atmosphere burst with personality as
vibrant as the food. The outside features architecture like something
out of a western
town (and includes patio dining for the wearmer weather). Inside, the
newly-extended Texas Room, as well as the Louisiana and Arizona rooms
all exhibit decor and furnishings akin to those regions.
Dining area at CJ's Great West Grill.
The bar area emits a warm and cozy vibe where customers and staff seem
to closely bond like family (and there are also enough large flat
screen televisions to enjoy the game). The new wood floors, carpets,
walls and refinished furniture throughout the restaurant reveals a
place that clearly exhibits
pride of ownership fully geared to the comfort of the customer.
Bar at CJ's Great West Grill.
CJ's Great West Grill has clearly come a long way since its opening in
1994, originally named Cactus Jack's that had more of a Mexican theme.
Here in the 21st-century, however, the lunch and dinner menu is
broader and mass appeal far
greater. It's truly an ideal spot for appetizers, soups, salads,
sandwiches, burgers, tacos, barbecue, butcher-cut steaks, chicken,
seafood (including fresh salmon), south-of-the-border cuisine,
gluten-free items and desserts all brought to a high
culinary level, courtesy of a truly gifted, passionate head chef
dressed in a pink chef's jacket (more on that
shortly). Additionally, the drinks list more
than impresses and include wines from celebrated producers and smaller
bouqitue wineries, as well as local brews and creative signature
Dining room at CJ's.
The cowboy statues, rural signs, colorful vases, regional posters,
hanging cowboy-style lighting, rustic fireplace, train mural, wooden
benches and retro conversation-starter signs also lend a fun element to an
already fun food and dining experience. There's a bit of a wild west theme here but it's ultimately family-friendly.
Fun, family friendly atmosphere at CJ's.
CJ's Great West Grill is a place that people visit three or four times
a week, or come to as a destination. But most importantly, there is an
enthusiasm here that very few restaurants achieve. It's almost
like the rock star version of a restaurant although a G -rated one. And
the great thing is, CJ's is in this for the long run. As part of the
highly successful and philanthropic Great NH Restaurants, Inc. that
owns Copper Door (Bedford and Salem), T-Bones (Bedford, Derry,
Hudson, Laconia), Cactus Jack's (Laconia) and T-Bones Meats, Sweets and
Catering (Manchester), CJ's Great West Grill not only brings in the
crowds but also possesses a group of caring owners that genuinely love
people and the concept and value of owning small, local businesses.
Regional furnishings at CJ's Great West Grill.
Tom Boucher, the founder of CJ's Great West Grill and CEO of Great NH
Restaurants, certainly leads by example. He started out waiting tables
in Hudson in the late 1980s and worked his way up the career ladder,
experiencing virtually every job in the restaurant business. Boucher
the field so much, in fact, that he turned down a full scholarship
to study chemistry at Villanova University grad school in Philadelphia,
Penn. The real chemistry, it turned out, was with the
restaurant industry. That intuition led to restaurant and company
ownership and a wonderful commitment to philanthropy to those in need
(more on that shortly, also). He shows deep respect and admiration
for dedicated, hard-working employees and has a wonderful way of
communicating with them as not only a restaurant owner but a great
Tom Boucher, CEO of Great NH Restaurants and founder of
CJ's Great West Grill.
"I ran a kitchen for 10 years, so I know what it's like to work every
job and am sensitive to that," said Boucher. "I am glad I chose this
career and would only change one thing if I had to do it all over
again, I would have majored in business rather than chemistry.
Otherwise, I'd do it all over again. I love what I am doing and so
grateful for the people that surround me."
The Irresistible Cuisine at CJs
Some of the cuisine at CJ's Great West Grill looks wonderfully
familiar, others either a twist on favorites or, at its most ambitious,
a completely different take on comfort food.
A prime example of a typically ordinary dish given an extreme food
makeover: the Crispy Haddock Tacos. While a common fish taco can often
taste like something below "C" level (sorry for the bad pun), the Crispy Haddock Tacos go
beyond the sea with prime fried haddock, a hard and soft shell taco
combination, crab dip, lettuce, pico de gallo, Colby & Jack
cheeses, fries, coleslaw and tartar sauce. Although CJ's Great
West Grill serves many addictive, to-die-for dishes, the Crispy Haddock
Tacos are often considered the top dish here.
Crispy Haddock Tacos.
Many like to fill up on appetizers, and rightfully so. The fried
pickles with a dill pickle, crunchy tempura batter, house
seasoning and chipotle ranch dip are quite popular. The spinach artichoke
dip avoids the typical runny versions as it is served at just above room
temperature instead of hot. The proper temperature helps avoid any
unappetizing, dreaded soupiness.
Made from scratch, the spinach artichoke dip features plenty of
Parmesan cheese, the right amount of mayo and sour cream, chopped
spinach and full artichoke hearts and handmade fried red and white
tortilla chips, perfectly seasoned. The accompanying Cajun garlic bread
just makes a great dish even better.
Spinach artichoke dip.
Chicken Espinaca is another standout with fried chicken, Mexican rice,
Espinaca cheese sauce, pico de gallo, black olive, scallion and crispy
The Shrimp Stuffed Avocado wonderfully combines avocado, pan-seared
jumbo shrimp, toasted corn, pico de gallo, lime remoulade, tortilla
thins, cilantro and Mexican rice...
Shrimp stuffed avocado.
Fried chicken never tasted this good at other places as the fried
boneless chicken breast, mashed potato, asparagus and gravy come
together for a crispy, moist and flavorful meal...
Fried chicken dinner from CJ's Great West Grill.
If having enough room for dessert (a challenge, given the huge
portions), a must-try is the Funny Bone Cake. It's a variation of the
store-bought Drake's Funny Bone -- only it's a zillion times better!
The dense chocolate cake, peanut butter filling and
chocolate Ganache topping surely would have a place on any of the major food
television shows. Take notice, The Food Network!
Funny Bones Cake.
So, Who is the Culinary Mastermind Behind CJ's Great West
CJ's Great West Grill.
Nicole Barreira, that's who.
Better known as Chef Nicole, Barreira, 35, works for Great NH
Restaurants as director of marketing and menu development for
CJ's Great West Grill and T-Bones. Primarily growing up in Hudson,
Barreira found success through hard work in the field and a thirst
and hunger for
education. Barreira earned her associate's degree in culinary arts, a
bachelor's degree in hospitality administration, a master's degree in
organizational leadership, and a master's certificate in marketing, all
from Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).
She is basically the face of CJ's (and T-BONES), wearing a pink
chef's jacket and possessing a vibrant personality and relentless
energy that lights up a room. She is kind by nature but firm and
assertive in her vision to bring culinary excellence to CJ's Great West
"Whatever level of energy you devote to what you love is what you get
back," said Barreira.
Chef Nicole creates in the kitchen. Photo credit: CJ's
Great West Grill.
Barreira first got a taste of the hospitality industry as a teenager by
attending the Alvirne Culinary Arts program in Hudson. The program
prepares students for careers in the food service industry. At
14-years-old, she started working at the former Annie's V's restaurant
in Hudson. While at SNHU, Barreira also gained diverse hospitality
experience in food services at the Nashua Country Club and Southern
New Hampshire Medical Center, both in Nashua, N.H.
In 2006 during her last year as an undergraduate, Barreira was tasked
to do a research project and chose T-BONES because of its popular presence
in the Manchester area.
"It wasn't sexy or fun as I wanted to work in Boston or Chicago," said
Barreira. "But after a while, I said 'Wow! This is a tremendous place.'
I thought, 'Why does this place have such longevity?' I found out that
people working there raved about the place -- the benefits, being
treated well, the commitment to food and service."
Barreira gained valuable front and back of the house experience at Great NH Restaurants but after two years of management
responsibilities at the Laconia location, Barreira felt a need to get
back to what she loved most.
"I had to get back to food," said Barreira. "My heart and soul is food
-- seeing the different cultures, makingg the food. My heart was
ticking. I loved the company but there wasn't an opportunity at that
point and I needed a break. I decided to travel."
In 2008, Barreira journeyed to Bangkok, Thailand and stayed there for an
extended time, enjoying the change of pace but also wondering what to do
"Tom (Boucher) asked me 'Are you coming back?'" said Barreira. "It was
in the middle of the night because of the time difference. I told him,
'Tom, I don't know if I need something different.' He said, 'Nicole, we
would love to put a face on our brand. We will train you on menu
Eventually, Chef Nicole was born -- managing at a corporate level and
creating food for restaurant customers. She would soon appear on radio, television and in the
newspapers. She is a local food celebrity but ultimately likes being
part of something that is bigger than herself. Working at Great NH Restaurants allows her to personally grow while being part of
a visionary restaurant business.
Chef Nicole. Photo credit:
CJ's Great West Grill.
"For a while, people didn't know I was a real person!" said Barreira, of her newly-found public persona.
"But I got to know the public and they got to know me. I became a
member of the leadership team at Great New Hampshire Restaurants and part
owner at CJ's. Quite a difference from not knowing what to do next
while in Thailand!"
The Art and Science Behind CJ's Cuisine
Nachos from CJ's. Photo credit:
CJ's Great West Grill Facebook fan page.
Barreira's mom is of Sicilian descent and considered making food in the home as a symbol of happiness. Nicole is like that,
too, creating meals at home for her husband Nathan Langford and their
children Gabriella, Chloe and Axl. And thousands of people a week at CJ's Great West Grill.
"So many restaurants say they make food from scratch and all that
stuff," said Barreira. "We actually do that here. If you could see the
care, the production, the food quality, the ethics... it is just
amazing. The menu is an experience you won't find anywhere else. The
flavors, the colors. Our food is not made in the same old way. There
are just so many elements that go into making food special. That's what
we do here."
Chicken and ribs from
CJ's. Photo credit:
CJ's Great West Grill Facebook fan page.
Staying local to create American cuisine remains a constant priority.
Donabedian Farms in Salem, N.H. partnered with Great NH
Restaurants to build a greenhouse that grows local produce for CJ's
Great West Grill and all restaurants within the company. Great NH Restaurants has its own commissary down the road that,
amongst many other attributes, has its own butcher that grinds
hamburgers and cuts steaks.
bacon smash burger features two 4 oz. burgers, black pepper mayo, Jack
cheese, bacon, tomato, shredded lettuce, guacamole and fries.
CJ's Great West Grill Facebook fan page.
CJ's Great West Grill features a big menu. Some restaurant elites say
that only a small menu can yield the highest quality offerings as, theoretically, the
chef can work better focusing on a limited number of items. Barreira
"Our kitchen makes it a priority to do everything well!" said Barreira.
Giving Back to the Community
Philanthropy is a priority at CJ's.
Since 1984, Great NH Restaurants, Inc has donated more than $1,250,000
in gift certificates to thousands of non-profits throughout New
Hampshire. They created FEEDNH.org
in 2014 to provide funding, food and volunteer services to meet the
needs of New Hampshire-based non-profits benefiting families, the
elderly, education and the disadvantaged, according to the Great NH
Great NH Restaurants donated in 2018...
$1,711, 541 in total promotional discounts$237,784 raised to help those in need through FeedNH.org$117,945 in total gift card donations$11,399 in military discounts
Additionally, Great NH Restaurants has instituted a Random Acts of
Kindness initiative with, for starters, free desserts, appetizers,
meals and other "surprises" at all locations. Their generosity to
customers includes cancer survivors and children facing illness to
those who have vital, noble roles in our society like the military and
Erick Shea happily waits a table at CJ's.
In many ways, CJ's follows the path of a history of fun, kid-friendly
restaurants that many of us could hardly wait to visit while on
vacation in New Hampshire. Some of the great, most beloved family restaurants from the
past that come to
mind when visiting CJ's: Green Ridge Turkey Farm and Shakey's Pizza in Nashua,
Longhorn BBQ in North Woodstock, Yoken's in Portsmouth and the Sunny
Villa in Ossipee. CJ's falls into that legendary category.
Family-fun setting at CJ's Great West Grill.
CJ's has a step up on the quality of the food, however. Chef Nicole's
passion, talent and innovations would certainly have a place in the top
echelon of Boston restaurants, if she chose to be there. Lucky for
Manchester and visitors to the area, however, that she stayed in the
Granite State to share her brilliant culinary skills and passion for cooking with the public.
"There is a process to creating food," said Barreira. "I dream it and
then create it on a large scale."
CJs Great West Grill is
located at 782 South Willow St., Manchester, NH. 03103. Tel.
Web site: http://www.cjsgreatwestgrill.com.
Facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/TBONES.CJS.
Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/cjsgreatwestgrillnh/.
More small business reading:
Bedford and Salem, N.H.
Port City Pretzels,
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