February 20, 2024

5 Minutes with Leona Gist-Milton of What’s The Dill

In our “5 Minutes with an Entrepreneur” series, we pass the mic to Michigan entrepreneurs…


A woman wearing glasses, a black chef's hat, and a black uniform labeled "Antoinette" is smiling and standing with her arms crossed. She has dark, curly hair and hoop earrings. Behind her are various papers and a dollar bill pinned to the wall.

In our “5 Minutes with an Entrepreneur” series, we pass the mic to Michigan entrepreneurs we’ve supported to hear their stories, including the spark behind their business, the challenges they’ve faced, and what motivates them to keep going.


Leona Gist-Milton has a passion for pickles, a vision for healthy eating, and a deli restaurant that’s changing the game for sandwiches. What sets her business apart? It’s not just What’s The Dill’s delicious kosher dill pickle sandwiches; it’s the mindful approach to feeding people with unique dietary restrictions. 

In this Q&A, we chat with Leona about her journey from culinary school to opening her own restaurant, how she overcame the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how she works with her family to create a welcoming and satisfying experience for her customers. 

With access to the right grants, working capital, and technical assistance at the right time, Leona continued to propel her business on a path toward success.

Read on to discover the inspiration behind What’s the Dill, and how Leona’s entrepreneurial spirit brings unique and healthy foods to Detroit’s city streets. 

Tell us about your business.   

What’s The Dill is a deli restaurant serving stuffed Kosher dill pickle sandwiches. Stuffed with premium cut deli meats, cheese, sauce, vegetables, and seasonings. 

What was the spark behind your business? 

I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant. During COVID-19, I realized that tomorrow isn’t promised. I took a leap of faith to start a business with this unique sandwich concept that quickly became very successful. 

What makes your business stand out?            

What’s The Dill is the only deli restaurant in the State that serves Pickle sandwiches. Sandwiches that cater to Vegans, Keto dieters, and Vegetarians. 

Five years from now, where do you hope to be?           

In five years, I hope that we are starting to franchise the company. 

What’s the biggest challenge facing small good food businesses?         

Limited capital and resources are often a major hurdle for small food businesses. Also, recruiting and retaining skilled staff is a common challenge. 

What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs? OR What’s one lesson you’ve learned that you’d pass on to others?          

Manage your finances. Pay attention and learn how to manage your finances even if you hire an accountant. Make sure your taxes are being handled and processed correctly and on time. One wrong mistake can cost you your business. 

What motivates you?  

A deep passion for creativity motivates me to run my deli restaurant. I believe in the power of food to bring people together, and running a deli allows me to contribute to the culinary landscape by offering a diverse menu of fresh, thoughtfully prepared options. The challenge of sourcing the finest ingredients, creating innovative recipes, and fostering a welcoming atmosphere keeps me energized and dedicated to delivering a memorable and satisfying experience for every customer who walks through our doors. 

What’s the biggest ah-ha you’ve had?   

The biggest ah-ah moment was when I came up with the idea of creating several other breadless menu items to attract customers that don’t like pickles. So, we also offer Tomato sandwiches, Cucumber sandwiches, and Bell pepper sandwiches. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten?  

Work on your business, not in your business. 

What key qualities should an entrepreneur possess?  

Problem-solving ability, decision-making skills, leadership skills, passion, and vision. 

What advice would you give yourself as you were starting out? 

Consistency and teamwork are the keys to success. Don’t Stop. 

Can you describe how working with Michigan Good Food Fund has helped your business?    

Specifically, Jamie Rahrig, Michigan Good Food Fund Specialist and Innovation Counselor at MSU Center for Regional Food Systems and Product Center, listened to me, explained processes to me, passed along helpful resources, and guided me step by step on how to start this business. For that, I am forever grateful. We need more like her.

Through a strategic partnership with Michigan Good Food Fund, What’s The Dill LLC’s breadless deli restaurant has achieved unprecedented success, leveraging their innovative solutions, expert guidance, and collaborative approach to elevate our operations and customer experience.

Want to try What’s the Dill’s scrumptious stuffed pickle sandwiches? Visit their website to order online or find a store near you.

What’s The Dill received business assistance from MSU Center for Regional Food Systems and working capital loans from Michigan Good Food Fund lending partners Michigan Women Forward and Detroit Development Fund. 

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