Drafts Sports Bar & Grill is a focal point of much of the Melsa family's life.
First off, could you tell us a little bit about yourselves? Your families, educations, background/previous stops, careers, etc.?
Brent – I have lived in Crookston since I was five years old, my father worked as a chemistry professor at UMC and my mom worked for Simplot until they retired a few years back. I received my bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota Crookston majoring in Hotel, Restaurant, Institutional Management. I have worked in various management jobs including Marriott Corporate Services(Manager/Chef), and Bruegger's Bagels(General Manager) in the Minneapolis area, and locally at UND(Foodservice Manager), University of Minnesota Crookston(Director of Dining Services), Seven Clans Casino(Food & Beverage Director), and Altru(Director of Food and Nutrition), and now Owner of Drafts Sports Bar & Grill in Crookston MN.
Jasmine – Our family moved to Crookston when I was in 3rd grade. Like Brent our family was brought here by UMC, my dad worked at UMC as the head of maintenance and security until he was hired as a police officer for the Crookston PD and then retired many years later as police lieutenant. My mom worked for many years as a social worker at RiverView Health. We have 3 children: Kelsey (25), Emi (16), Keane (10). I also started the HRI program at UMC after graduating high school and decided that warmer weather made more sense at that time in my life so I moved to Hawaii less than a year after high school. I worked in the hospitality business the entire time I lived in Hawaii as a bartender, server, bar manager, front desk at a resort and also as a deck hand on a snorkel boat. When I came home 8 years later I went back to UMC and received an associates degree in dietetics. After school I worked for many years as the Nutrition Services Director at RiverView until we opened Drafts in 2013.
This might be more for Brent or for both of you…I’ll leave that up to you. Brent, you’ve been in the food service industry for a long time and for a while you bounced around a little bit. Someone told me a while back that it had long been your dream to own your own sports bar and grill. Is that accurate? And, if so, has your dream essentially come true? Or are you not quite there yet?
Brent – Yes I have worked in the foodservice and hotel industry since just out of high school and yes I have always wanted to own my own restaurant since I started my college career. I really didn't have a specific concept in mind but I have always wanted to be my own boss and work hard to accomplish that. This business isn't for everyone but I enjoyed it and felt I could be successful at it. I think for the most part I have accomplished what I set out to do, have I reached my ultimate goal? That is yet to be determined, there might be a few more goals that I haven't attained yet.
Jasmine – I have wanted to work in this business since I was a teenager. My first visit to Hawaii when I was 13 I decided that I wanted to be a chef. Ultimately by the time I graduated high school I decided that I wanted to own my own restaurant. If you've ever noticed the coasters under the bar top at Drafts that is 20 plus years of saving coaster that I knew would go on my own bar some day. When Brent and I first met and started dating and discovered we BOTH had the same dream it was obviously something we talked a lot about. I feel as though the dream has come true and yet I have a feeling we are not done yet!!
Owning their own business, especially a cool one that at least from the outside looks like more fun than work, might be the dream of a lot of people. So tell me, how nightmarishly difficult was this to actually pull off? Lining up investors, seeking multiple forms of other financing, putting basically everything you own and love at risk, completing a business plan, picking a site, building a building, opening up, the joys of the honeymoon phase and the realities that set in when the honeymoon phase ends… What’s it been like?
Drafts has been a great learning and working experience and it has been rewarding, fun, challenging, difficult, and tiring. There is a lot that goes into pulling off building a restaurant from the ground up especially getting the proper financing to get the project done to a level that you feel really good about. We have always been knowledgeable about running all aspects of a restaurant or large scale kitchen but actually putting together a business plan, designing a building, working with investors, the bank, the city/CHEDA, SBA, contractors, and vendors is enough to overwhelm you and yes we did get overwhelmed at times. The most difficult thing throughout the whole process has been worrying about letting people down, our families, investors, the bank, the people of Crookston and ourselves. A lot of people have stuck their necks out to make this project a reality and there is pressure to keep improving every year. We have put everything we own into this business so not succeeding isn't an option, that pressure is a definite motivator.
When you decided you were going to pursue Drafts Sports Bar & Grill, how many people said, “Oh my god, that’s great! You have to do it!” And how many people said, “Are you crazy? In this town?”
I would say 90/10. the excitement we heard was 100% positive, but for those that didn't think it was a good idea we didn't hear from. Through the grapevine we did hear of a few things about the location we decided on but over all we made the best choice being located next to the Crookston Sports Center with all the hockey activities and other events that are held there. It has really been a very positive thing for us. The Crookston community has been very good to us and we couldn't thank them enough for their business.
How risky did you think it was to decide to build Drafts where you did, way on the northeast corner of town, with much of its success hinging on the existence of the new Crookston Sports Center?
We felt the location next to the Crookston Sports Center made a lot of sense. For one this is a hockey community and we don't foresee hockey going anywhere but up from the time we built Drafts. Also the north end of town is where it seems the community is growing and it just made good sense to be on the north end right next to a busy sports center. Also with the potential residential lots behind and around us I think we made a good decision and it will only get better down the road. It seems like a lot more activity is happening at the Crookston Sports Center now which is great for everyone in town.
Can you articulate how much of your business is reliant or at least somewhat boosted or hindered by what’s going on, or not going on, at the CSC?
Our business definitely increases when there are activities at the Sports Center. To be honest it would be very difficult to make ends meet if the CSC was not there. We do get a lot of support from the community, UMC, and surrounding communities but the CSC has a major role in our success.
Have the joys outnumbered or outweighed the stresses of owning and operating Drafts? There were some struggles at the CSC for a couple years regarding the number of youth hockey tournaments and the small size of those tournaments, but is it true that things seem to be rebounding in that area?
Yes the joys have definitely out weighed the stresses of owning and operating Drafts. It is great meeting new people on a daily basis, no day is the same as the previous day. Yes it can be very stressful but it can be very rewarding as well! I think there was some struggles at the CSC for a few years which did hurt our business and many other businesses in town but it looks like the CSC is running great with a lot of hockey tournaments, more activities, and great communication which helps a lot for everyone.
You’re a married couple who own a business. You’re married to the business, too, right? Can you compare how many hours you put in per week in the early days compared to now? Have you been able to step back at all?
Yes we are married to our business and you have to be to be successful, ask any business owner. It takes a lot to do this job in fact you have to be a little nuts too! When we first opened probably for the first year we were working 7 days a week 15-18 hour days, now we have been able to take some time off and let our trained staff help run our business at times. We still now generally work 7 days a week but we are now down to 10-12 hour days for the most part. Some days are longer some shorter depending on whats going on in town.
Do you feel like you have to frequently be changing things/shaking things up with the menu or the decor or whatever at Drafts, so customers maybe don’t get bored, or too accustomed to the same things?
Yes we are constantly changing things up with our menu. We generally roll out a new menu at least once a year to take off certain items that are selling a little slower and adding new things that are currently trending. That is the name of the game when it comes to operating a restaurant, you always have to be keeping up with the times and keeping things new and fresh. We have also purchased a food trailer that we are currently working on to get ready for the summer and are hoping to get out to some county fairs, Crookston Farmers Market, Ox Cart Days, and potentially other areas around town and other communities. The food trailer menu will feature items that we currently serve at Drafts but with some new twists...to shake it up!!
Do you still have those moments now and then when it’s really busy at Drafts and everyone seems to be having a great experience there, and your eyes meet, you both smile, and without saying anything you both know that you made the right decision and that life is good? Or is that just hopeless romantic crazy talk?
Well it is not really hopeless romantic talk, there are times when we are getting our butts kicked and everything is going just right, service is good, food is going to the tables in a timely manner, and costumers are having a good time. There is not much time for that hopeless romantic stuff, but there are times when we meet up later after it has died down and say that was a fun crazy day! We have always joked that you have to be a little bit crazy to be in this business anyway and we, along with much of our staff, seem to enjoy work more when its "crazy" than when its slow. We as a couple do have a lot of fun at work which can help make the tougher times more tolerable.
Jasmine, you have family connections in Hawaii, and you two took another trip there earlier this year. I’m jealous. So is everyone reading this. Rub our noses in it a little bit by telling us how amazing Hawaii is.
Jasmine – I LOVE Hawaii and have since my very first trip there when I was 13. I spent every summer there as a kid and then moved there after high school so it is essentially a second home for me. The weather is perfect (for me anyway!), the scenery is beautiful, and there is tons to do. You can look up at the snow capped mountains from the beach, hike through a bamboo forest along a waterfall and a red wood pine forest in the same day and its all surround by ocean for as far as you can see so what's not to love. To be honest I never thought that I would come back to great frozen north again. Family of course is what pulled me back and I couldn't be happier with that decision! I met Brent not long after I came back and we have established a great life here. You never know we may end up back in Hawaii some day, but for now it will have to be an occasional escape... There has been some slightly serious joking about at "Drafts on the Beach" though!
Brent, what’s with the love for the Dallas Cowboys? You know we hate the Cowboys around these parts…
I have liked the Dallas Cowboys since I was 12 years old. I flew to Dallas TX by myself and stayed with my aunt and uncle. My Uncle took me to my first NFL game (Cowboys vs Lions) from that point on the Cowboys were my team! Ohhh Herschel Walker trade! You got to love it!
Do either of/both of you possess any quirky or unique talents, skills or habits that people outside of your inner circle are most likely unaware of? Care to share any?
Brent – Huge Bigfoot fan, but everyone in the family knows that.
Jasmine – Before we opened Drafts and our personal time was mostly eliminated I used to make jewelry and would love to get back in to it at some point. I have always been fairly artistic.
Describe where you both think/hope you'll be in 10 years, or what you think/hope you'll be doing, personal life-wise and career-wise.
I am sure we will be doing what we are currently doing now, maybe in 15 years we would like to retire and move to the Big Island of Hawaii where we own land and operate a food truck if Drafts on the Beach doesn't become reality.
Please, each of you, describe yourselves in ten words or less…
Brent – Good sense of humor, somewhat reserved, and like beer.
Jasmine – Also good sense of humor, less reserved, and I love beer!! (hence a bar and grilled named Drafts!)