Fast-casual eatery offers Philly delights in Rochester
Our great state of Minnesota gets Blacker every day. Even in Greater Minnesota—generally recognized as the area outside of the seven counties of the Twin Cities area—there are Black communities sprinkled throughout the state, ranging from Worthington up to Duluth.
Black business owners have found community support, but also tough conversations.
Next time you are in Rochester visiting the Mayo Clinic, visit Jersey Jo’s owned by Joseph Phillips. Highlights on the menu are the Philadelphia-style cheesesteak with Cheese Whiz (melted cheddar cheese sauce) or their spicy chicken sandwich.
Having come to Rochester originally to work for IBM, Phillips decided to take control of his life and build opportunities for his family by opening a business.
The Philadelphia native decided that cheese steak sandwiches would fill a gap. The fast-casual Jersey Jo’s also enables Phillips and his family to have powerful conversations with his customers who might come for the sandwiches but stay for the community.
Running a small business is not without its challenges. Small business owners have to learn how to juggle multiple responsibilities and jobs. As Phillips puts it, “[Running a] small business means that you’re doing everything. You’re the opener, the closer; you’re the advertising manager, janitor. You’re the secretary—you’re everything.”
It can also be a big challenge acclimating to the culture of greater Minnesota, where one might assume Black business owners could face hostile racism that would hurt their business.
Phillips said, “I think that many of the people here in Minnesota are racially ignorant and not racist. There’s a difference… If you ever turn on TV and watch our depiction of African Americans in this country, it’s not a good representation. There are drug dealers or rapists or some type of criminal.
“So being here in Greater Minnesota, I [get] people from the area and people outside the area because we’re located in a very central corridor, Rochester. So, people travel from everywhere—from South Dakota, North Dakota, all parts of Minnesota, all parts of the country.”
Phillips continued, “You got about 10 or 15 seconds to grab them. As they walk into my restaurant, the walls are red, green and black, hip hop is playing, and this Black guy is behind the counter, and you know, Black counterparts moving around back in the kitchen.
“It is easy enough to get their interest, but then I try to have conversation with just about all my customers. All my customers walk away with something to think about.”
Being in Greater Minnesota also opens up the issue of finding suitable workers in the anemic labor market. “We had a second location for about two years. It was in Northwest Rochester, and we were very, very successful in getting that over.
“The problem that we ran into there was we could not find a good supporting staff. So given the opportunity, we sold that particular business to another business. What we learned from that was, you know, we need support to grow.”
When asked to give some tips of success to other business owners, Phillips said, “The key, I think, is perseverance. You’re going to have more negatives than positives for a long time. You have to have a vision, and you have to stick by your goals.
“However, you have to have a certain openness to the people around you, because they want to be a support mechanism,” Phillips continued. “Your support network is going to be the person that comes in, like your mailman who stops in for a bite.
“There’s gonna be other business owners, there’s gonna be other people that just come in every so often. These are your networks. Build them because these people want to drive business your way. You have to understand that no one builds anything by themselves.”
Jersey Jo’s is located at 87 16th Ave., S.W., Rochester, MN 55902. For more info, visit www.jerseyjos.com or call 507-258-7555.
Keeping with the Greater Minnesota theme, next week we speak to Mateo Mackbee of Krewe Restauarant in St. Joseph, MN.
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