They’re just a couple of average Joes
Joe Franta and Jonah Pirsig open up new bar and grill
About a little over a year ago, two Blue Earth Area High School alumni sat in the office of Nielson Blacktopping in Kasota after work one day and started talking about an idea.
Jonah Pirsig and Joe Franta both worked at the asphalt and concrete business located in Kasota, between Mankato and St. Peter.
What they started discussing was the Double Play Bar and Grill in Blue Earth, and that it had been for sale for a long time.
“We agreed that Blue Earth was a town that needs a sports bar, and it could be successful,” Pirsig says. “It was something I have wanted to do for a long time, even before high school. I love to cook, although I have never been a line cook in a restaurant before.”
And now, they are the owners of Average Jo’s Sports Bar and Grill, the former Double Play.
Both young men say they have had a lot of help to get it all done. And, they needed it.
“We had zero experience in running a bar and grill,” Franta, who graduated from BEA in 2011, says. “Or running a business. None.”
Pirsig, who graduated in 2012, agrees.
“We did have zero hours of experience. But we are not prideful people,” he adds. “We know when we need help and we will take all the help we can get.”
The list of help they got is almost endless. They mention Mary Kennedy and then Amy Schaeffer from the Blue Earth Economic Development Authority and Cory Milbrandt at First Bank Blue Earth and Kara Drake from One Realty helping them get the deal done.
“We closed on Feb. 3,” Pirsig says. “It took a lot to get it done.”
Then they decided they wanted to do a pretty big facelift inside the place. That included floors, new walls for a private room and much, much more.
“We had a lot of our old high school friends help us out,” Franta says. “Lots of other people. Tim Blagg, Skip Meyer, Tvedten Electric, Ehrich Plumbing, well, lots of others.”
Pirsig says the idea was to give the place a different look, but not go overboard.
“We wanted it to not look like Double Play,” he says. “But we didn’t want to reinvent the bar and grill wheel either. They (Double Play) had success, so we didn’t want to start from scratch. We wanted to have a comfortable atmosphere and good food.”
They did want to have a banquet room, since Hamilton Hall had closed, so that was a priority.
“We got a lot of advice from Joe’s boss at Nielsen,” Pirsig says. “He is a part owner in several restaurants in the Mankato area. He put us in connection with vendors and things we should do.”
They thought construction could take six months but they got it done in three. The week of March 29 to April 3 they had three or four soft openings. Then they officially opened on April 5.
“We got slammed on the chin right away,” Franta says. “We were expecting to have 50 people a day and we were getting 300. We didn’t really have the staff for that, but the staff we have really adapted. It was a learning curve for them and us.”
Pirsig says it has settled down a bit now and they are handling things, especially in the kitchen, much better.
“We are lucky to have Daniel Peterson as our full time cook,” Pirsig says. “He cooked here (Double Play) in the past and at Beantown in Fairmont. He has been a lifesaver, knowing the kitchen, and is a great cook. He cares about what the food looks like and tastes like.”
They also have another great cook, Danny Masters who has been a great help.
They are also thankful for Travis ‘Doc’ Armstrong who has been a part-time bartender at Double Play and now Average Jo’s.
“He is great and has been here a long time,” Franta says. “And he knows the people. He is really good at what he does.”
The two owners say they are often asked about the name of the new restaurant.
“It was back in November or December that we started throwing around a few ideas for a name,” Pirsig says. “There were several different names, but this one just stuck.”
They also get asked about the caricature for their logo that is on the wall when customers first come in.
It was drawn by Caricatures by Casey in Mankato, and SPX in Mankato made the sign and put it up.
Some folks are also surprised to learn the two were not best friends in high school, just friends.
“We were not in the same grade, but we knew each other through sports,” Joe says. “Like football and baseball. And we did go hunting together. And my siblings were friends with Jonah’s siblings, things like that.”
Franta plans to continue working at Nielsen Blacktopping, while Pirsig will work at Average Jo’s. Franta’s wife, Cassie, will also help out with things like marketing and organization.
“Jonah said I would not really be an asset around the place anyway,” Franta says with a smile. “And I did not disagree.”
When they get some more summer help in place, the two plan on trying to expand the hours and expand on the menu.