New team, same dream
The North Main Street block that houses Jay’s Shop in Blue Earth has been noted for its transportation services since the 1940s.
And when Paul Kafka, originally from Maryland but now happily entrenched in Blue Earth, took over ownership of Jay’s in November, his first priority was making sure that did not change.
Commitment to the community is something Kafka says he noticed right away when he began working under the auto repair shop’s previous owner, Jay Johnson, toward the end of 2010.
Now it is something he hopes to convey himself as he takes the local automotive outlet to a new gear.
“I didn’t want to be anywhere other than Jay’s Shop,” says Kafka, who officially began running the show at 202 N. Main St. on Nov. 1, 2016. “There isn’t a better place to be.”
It was actually no more than two years after Johnson had gotten Jay’s Shop off the ground, looking to expand the repair service, when Kafka was called upon to bring his mechanical background to the business.
For Kafka, he says the move to Blue Earth was a welcome one. And not only because he is now the head honcho at Jay’s.
“I was working at a Parts City in Fairmont,” he says, “but I always wanted to be working in the town where I lived.”
And Blue Earth is where Kafka called home the place he settled after meeting and marrying his wife, Jennifer, from Winnebago; working as an aircraft mechanic for the U.S. Army and training with Chrysler in Iowa.
So it was a no-brainer when, roughly six years after he moved his skills into the Jay’s Shop garages, Kafka had the opportunity to take over for Johnson.
Blue Earth is where he wanted to be. Jay’s is where he wanted to be.
“I took my retirement fund and dumped it into the business,” Kafka says. “Because we didn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Now in its sixth month of new ownership, Jay’s Shop’s services have expanded to include in-house exhaust and alignment work, as well as specialty requests like engine upgrades. Three lift stalls and a fourth, shared with the next-door building, allow the garages to host five vehicles foreign, domestic and, yes, even some tractors at any given time. And the shop crew, complete with new Jay’s apparel, includes area locals John Koestler, Eric Lawrence, Ryne Myers and Tim Woodwick.
“I’ve got some of the youngest, brightest guys here, some of the best mechanics in town,” Kafka says. “I’m the old guy in the shop at 45.”
And yet, at the end of the day, Kafka says Jay’s Shop is still Jay’s Shop. A respected downtown auto repair spot as much as it is a throwback to a staple of decades-old Main Street.
“Our bread and butter is still general repair,” he says. “And we stand by our work. We’re not always cheaper, but we’ll stand by it.”
Kafka says his half-decade or so of working under Johnson helped prepare him for carrying on the Jay’s Shop legacy in town. Bookkeeping, for instance, was one of his responsibilities before Johnson stepped down, so the mantle was passed without much issue. Having Koestler around, Kafka adds, ensured a longtime holdover from Johnson’s staff would be headlining the team of mechanics.
“He built a good business,” Kafka says. “We’re just keeping it going.”
A passion for Blue Earth and the community Jay’s Shop has served sure helps them do just that.
Somewhere removed from Main Street, in the comfort of his area farmland, Johnson is exploring a future in automotive restoration, Kafka says. It is a project with loosened time restraints and a far cry from the demands of the downtown repair shop he built and expanded.
But Johnson, Kafka adds, can rest easy knowing Jay’s Shop, tucked right in town, near the corner of a lot long known for its vehicle work, is in good and greasy hands.