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The Jack bar to change hands

Come July 1, Cloquet's most popular downtown bar, The Jack, will be changing hands. Longtime owner Adam Bailey is selling to brothers Ryan Lindstrom and Zach Zezulka, owners of Carmen's Bar & Restaurant. Both are Cloquet grads, both know their way around a bar.

But first things first: The Jack will still participate in the annual Labor Day parade, although no one knows if the elaborate dance routines often starring the bar owner will continue.

"We've got some fun ideas, a few things up our sleeve that we wouldn't mind doing," Lindstrom said.

"I might pop out of a cake," Bailey chimed in before all three friends started riffing on the idea.

Bailey wants people to know he is not riding off into the sunset. But he is planning to put family first, after making the bar - his first baby - top priority for 16 years.

Like Bailey, who bought his first bar with a friend when he was 22, Zezulka and Lindstrom are also young entrepreneurs.

Now in their 30s, they started managing at Carmen's for their mom, Carmen Lindstrom-Zezulka, in their early 20s. They bought out her partner's half seven years ago and took over full ownership in 2020.

Since then, the brothers also started a catering business and added a full-size kitchen to Carmen's. That made a huge difference to both the catering business and Carmen's.

"We only had two burners on our stove, so we could only boil two pots of water at a time," Lindstrom said. "We used to start at 5 or 6 a.m. and it was a battle. Now we can come in at 9 or 10 and get everything done."

An indirect effect of the new kitchen? It gave them some time to think about other things. They were already talking with Bailey about other business ideas, when Adam tossed out the idea of selling them the bar.

"I kind of blew their minds and asked if rather than going three ways on a business, would you guys be interested in ownership of The Jack?" Bailey said.

They pondered it for a couple weeks, then talked details. More pondering. Families got involved (all three have wives or partners and younger children).

"It was probably three weeks ago we said, 'we're gonna go for it,'" Bailey said last Thursday, May 16.

They set an official transfer date of July 1 because that's the renewal date for all the city licenses. In the meantime, Lindstrom and Zezulka will be coming down and working at the Jack, seeing what a day looks like, learning back office stuff.

"The bartending will be the easy part, because they've done it so long," Bailey said.

Lindstrom agreed. "It's not like we're starting a mechanics shop or something," he said. "We're familiar with the business."

Buying the bar was appealing for several reasons, Lindstrom said. It helped that Adam had grown a very solid business with great staff and loyal customers. They have no plans to change the bar in any substantial manner.

Staff will remain, they hope. "Everyone seemed very positive and wanting to stay through the change, which is huge for us," Lindstrom said.

The upstairs was a draw for catering.

"We don't really have a true spot to offer people, so now we will," Lindstrom said. "It's not huge, but 150 to 170 is a good number for Cloquet."

The biggest challenge for the two new owners will be balancing their time between the two business locations. There should be no problem with the partnership, since the pair of them - born two years apart - have lived and worked together their whole lives. They both know each other's strengths and weaknesses and how to be a team.

"We can work really well together," Zezulka said. "There's never any bitterness. The arguments we have are so minimal nowadays that you just move on with your life and figure it out."

Bailey admitted it won't be easy to move on, but it felt like the right time, he said. But he wanted to make sure it was the right people.

"I realized I really want this to go to somebody who's going to take care of our regulars, take care of our staff," he said. "Because this is my favorite place to go, and I still want it to be that."

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