It seemed appropriate that for my second minority-owned business feature I speak with the owner of one of my favorite restaurants in town. Joe Phillips, owner of Jersey Jo's, and I chatted about what its like to run a restaurant in Rochester, MN.
Joe has only been a restaurateur for 3 years. Before he opened Jersey Jo's he worked as a project manager. He “sort of fell into owning a restaurant” after he received a sum of money. He was able to launch the business with the help of an angel investor who knew Joe's skill in the kitchen and passion for cooking. Joe has always like the idea of satisfying people through food. If this angel investor reads this, let me extend my family's deep gratitude, as some days nothing will do except a cheese steak from Jersey Jo's.
They have exceeded their initial expectations. As a first-time restaurant business owner he is proud that they have surpassed their goal.
When I asked who the biggest competitor was he saidthat Tinne’s was the only place in town that was a competitor due to the “Cheese Steak Marke,t” but also said they have very different products and a different concept. ( I propose a CHEESESTEAK COOKOFF!)
Hiring and keeping staff has been a challenge. It is extremely hard in a town where the unemployment rate is so low to retain staff in the restaurant industry. In a small family-owned business, that takes on a whole new level of difficulty. When they first opened they had the idea that more was better and hired on about 50 applicants to keep them covered. They are now far more selective in hiring and rely on “like-minded” people, with the result that they now have a small but reliable group of employees. One person has been with them for two years and the other is celebrating their one-year anniversary.
This is only my second interview with a small family-owned business, but it seems a theme is forming. When I asked Joe how many hours he typically puts in, he laughed and said he's lost count. He typically works open to close. On the weekend because he finally has some reliable help, he comes in later in the day and will arrive for the busy evening rush.
If you ever stop into Jersey Jo's in the evening, you will see a radiant woman behind the counter who is Joe's wife Jessica. You will commonly find their oldest son running the line and the two younger ones doing homework in the corner. Joe's oldest son is his “right hand man”.
I asked Joe how he found a work/home life balance. He stated that their balance is just different than most families. They spend a lot of time together as a family at the shop. He strives to make the business family friendly so not only his family can hang out, but other families as well. They all work together and probably get to spend more time together than most families. They are creating memories and accomplishing goals together. They are able to have dinner together most nights.
When asked about challenges that he has a minority-business owner was that other business owners didn’t have, he said that being a Black man in itself is a daily obstacle. Black men are feared in society and it does transfer over into his business as well sometimes. People make assumptions, and those assumptions can occasionally be negative. He noticed that when the current administration took office, people were more free with their comments and opinions. For a period of time folks would be pretty vocal about their opinions. He feels that has fizzled out a little, at least in front of him.
In the next five years he hopes to have at least one more storefront in Rochester. In addition to his own business success, he also wants to give more people an opportunity for employment and advancement in a thriving company.
I highly recommend swinging through Jersey Jo's. My favorite item on the menu is the Pepper Cheese Steak. If you are daring, order it spicy; it will make your eyeballs sweat. The cheesesteak fries are fantasti,c and dare I say they have the BEST wings in town. They were voted best burger in town, but when I am there I can never pass up on the cheesesteaks. Now that I browse the menu, it seems there are a few more items I am going to need to try soon, because the chicken looks amazing too. I may need to pick some Jersey Jo's up today myself. Joe, take all my money!!!
Check out Jersey Joes here.