Jilly’s Cupcake – Chef Dana Holland

Dana, Jill and Casey © Chef Casey Shiller

Chef Dana Holland has got nearly 30 years of culinary experience, most recently as executive chef at Jilly’s Cupcake Bar & Cafe. Prior to his role at Jilly’s, Holland spent six years as owner and chef of Babalu’s & Babalu’s Snack Shack, a full-service Pan Latin restaurant in St. Louis. Chef Holland co-founded Culinary Software Services, a software solutions provider for restaurant and foodservice operations in Boulder, Colorado, used by Whole Foods Markets and Marriott International Hotels. Most recently, Holland founded Sun Drenched Foods, a line of sauces and spices distributed locally in St. Louis. Chef Holland represented Jilly’s Cupcake Bar and Café and won the Cupcake Wars on the Food Network.

Interview by Stephen Thompson, Ph.D.

Welcome to OpenBeast. Could you briefly introduce yourself?

My name is Dana Holland. I am a native St. Louisan. I have been in the restaurant business professionally for 30 years and I am the chef of Jilly’s Cupcake Bar & Café.

Describe you experience with the food network’s Cupcake Wars experience?

What can I say? Casey and I were similarly excited and anxious when we got the call. Knowing we were representing not only Jilly’s but St. Louis and even Missouri, on national television. However once the clock started ticking, we put on our game face and did what we do best. It was long, very difficult and exhausting. The day of the shoot lasted nearly 16 hours. It was a pleasure and honor to work with a consummate professional like Casey.

So what makes Jilly’s cupcakes so special?

First and foremost we use very high quality ingredients. That includes only butter in our icings, not shortening like so many others. You have no idea how much we spend on butter each week. However, the proof is in the product. The flavors are spectacular. The same goes for our chocolates, vanilla and other pastry supplies. All the best ingredients. Then, well, they are ginormous. And they are stuffed. And there are multiple flavors and textures. And they just rock.

Talk to us about your Fallen Angel, your line of Caribbean finishing sauces?

When I owned Babalu’s in the CWE, I had many customers ask to buy some of our sauces, most specifically our wing sauce, which was very unique. After selling them in Tupperware, I started jarring them up. Then when I sold the restaurant, I continued to get similar requests. So I found a better jar and hired a very talented graphic artist, who was also a good customer, to create a label for me. That fall at the Best of Missouri Market at the MO Botanical Gardens, I realized I needed more choices. First I added more sauces, then added a line of spice blends under the Sun Drenched Foods label. After a good run locally and on the internet, I am now making it by special request only. I am so busy at Jilly’s and have strted a few other projects.

When did you realize that you wanted to be a chef?

I loved to help my mom in the kitchen as a kid and was very independent fixing my own lunches. I cooked and made pizza in high school. After college, I got a job at Schmeizings Restaurant and started cooking. I was inspired by the chef (Ed Neill of Café Provencal and The Dubliner) to look at cooking in a different way and I fell in love with it.

What made you to become an entrepreneur?

I was always a big picture thinker, coming up with ideas for businesses and restaurants. None of them ever came to fruition, but it was still fun. Then lightening struck. When I was living in Napa, the chef I was working with bought one of the first Macs. He used it to store recipes, but it seemed too time consuming and very limited in its function. I hooked up with a buddy from the East Coast who happened to be a retired programmer living in England. I proposed a big idea and we hammered out the design. Then he went to work and did his magic. In 1992 we launched Culinary Software Services and our first product was Escoffier. It was in DOS format and a beast, but it worked great. I loved it. We were way ahead of the time for the industry. Later, we adapted first to Windows, then the internet and business has been gang busters ever since. We have several large corporate accounts, including Marriott world wide and Whole Foods Markets. It’s really cool to see a crazy idea of mine become reality.

What are your personal strengths and who did those help in your processional success?

Thanks to my parents I read a lot. And I have a good memory. So I have a wealth of knowledge that I can in turn, bestow on my young chefs.

Any advice for want-to-be chefs.

Three pieces of advice.

1. If you think you want to be a chef, work for at least 2 years in the industry before going to culinary school. You’ll find out immediately if you like the business. After 2 years, you’ll you know if you want to make it a career.
2. Learn to listen. I mean really listen. Pay attention. Making mistakes is a prt of learning, but don’t make the mistake of not doing it correctly because you weren’t listening.
3. Eat everything. Read everything. Try everything.

Thank you chef.

For more details about Chef Dana Holland and Jilly’s Cupcake Bar and Café visit