When Java Jack’s lost its roommate, Rustica Bakery, it inherited ample room to increase its ability to caffeinate local coffee fiends and supply them with baked treats. But instead, owner Jerry Nelson decided to change the the scope of Jack’s from java to food. “We had been in the neighborhood since 1999, and because of Rustica, I had been in the bakery world for about six years. The idea of another bakery didn’t excite me, and I really felt that food was overdue in the space. Plus we had saturated our market in the coffee business.”
Nelson roped in local chef Stephanie Hedrick, who had spent time at Table of Contents, The Sample Room, Tejas, and The Independent. After a stint with Bon Appetit at Carleton College in Northfield, Hedrick was ready for the change. “I needed to dip my toes into the corporate world just long enough to know that I needed to work in a restaurant,” she says.
Thanks to a location basically at the center of four neighborhoods — East Harriet, Kingfield, Lynnhurst, and Tangletown — Nelson has been witness to a rapidly changing culinary landscape over his decade-plus tenancy. “When we first opened in ’99 you couldn’t do anything in the city because of the parking restrictions, because you were required to have a certain number of spaces available. But I think the city council realized neighborhoods aren’t really neighborhoods if they’re just residential. Commercial is an important part, too,” he says. “A few years ago there wasn’t much food around here. Now there is, and there’s still room for more.” Nelson is referring to a flurry of new neighbors such as Patisserie 46, Kings, and Piccolo.
So when Java Jack’s decided to drop the java — in title only — one of the biggest challenges Nelson faced was keeping his coffee hounds satisfied during the change. “The thing about the coffee business is that you don’t want to change people’s habits,” he says. So during the months-long construction project and kitchen overhaul, Jack’s remained open all but three days. And people came in religiously. “Other than that, I don’t remember anything. I blacked it all out.”
“I think I was the only one who expected everything,” says Hedrick. “I’ve consulted on and helped open other restaurants, and you can always count on things not going as planned.” During the process Nelson kept saying, “We’re pregnant with a restaurant.” Hedrick says she’s never heard a more fitting term. “When you’re pregnant, you are going to have a baby. There’s nothing you can do about it. You can think about what you’re going to feed it, how you are going to raise it, where the money is going to come from. Once it’s born, you can play with it, try and get it to a good school, change some diapers,” she says. “We changed a lot of diapers,” adds Nelson.
“I would tell anyone else going through the process to always keep going. Try not to sit on the details too much. Trust your instincts. Know that stuff bubbles up, so try to stay laid back about it,” says Hedrick. “A restaurant is an organic thing, so let it be that. Watch it. Once it opens you can be a total control freak and let all your neuroses come out.” Nelson adds some final words: “Always prepare as if the worst will happen.”
818 W 46th St
Minneapolis, MN 55419
OWNERS: Jerry and Pam Nelson