GRAND MOUND — This business partnership didn’t require months of negotiations and planning sessions. This one took less than a second.
Upon learning the news that Grand Mound’s only remaining bar and restaurant had closed, local resident Heather Chance called her good friend, Mallory Kruse, of DeWitt.
Chance feared the possibility that someone from outside the community could purchase the bar, maybe even change the zoning for the rustic structure at 509 Smith St. in Grand Mound.
Frankly, she didn’t want to leave anything to … well, chance.
“This is where I watch NFL games every Sunday,” she said, pointing at the bar. “It’s kind of a staple of the community.”
Apparently, at some point during the conversation, one them uttered, “We should buy it.” Whether it was said whimsically or with purpose, the idea had immediate staying power.
Kruse and Chance already have plenty on their plates – they have full-time jobs and are married with children. Inexplicably, their gut reaction was to go for it.
“I thought, ‘Why not?’ Kruse said. “You never turn down a good business opportunity. I know that Heather is totally trustworthy. We have the same work ethic and values.”
The business was named AJ’s in honor of their grandfathers, Avery Myers and John Jorgensen, both of whom they were “very close to.”
Interestingly enough, Kruse’s grandfather owned a bar across the street. It burned down in the 1980s, according to Tim Maher, a lifelong resident of Grand Mound, who added that the town once had five bars and four churches.
“We used to party on Saturday nights and ask for forgiveness on Sunday mornings,” he joked.
Kruse, who owns Jorgie’s Bar & Grill in DeWitt, has been heavily involved in the bar and restaurant business. Since she was a toddler, she has worked for her grandfather — and then her father — until assuming ownership of Jorgie’s six years ago.
“There are pictures of me answering the phone at the bar when I was like 2,” Kruse said.
Chance has been working for Kruse for the past six years, so she is aware of the peaks and valleys of the bar business. Together they closed on the purchase of the bar in less than a month on June 28.
They then gave the interior of the bar a makeover – a deep cleaning, re-painting and adding some low-top tables and other items – and developing a new menu. They still plan to add various décor inside.
The pair opened for business one week later on the Fourth of July, the night of the legendary Grand Mound fireworks display. That’s why they were scrambling – opening on July 4 was a must.
“I got the lucky end of this deal,” Chance said, referring to Kruse’s business savvy. “We make a great team.”
Kruse chuckled because she had said the exact same thing. They agreed that the biggest disagreement the duo has had is when they’re trying to decide who “deserves more credit” for all the work that went into AJ’s.
The duo also plan to beautify the outside of AJ’s as well. They plan to paint murals on the front and the side of the bar and to paint the exterior fenced-in area.
Chance said she and her husband, Rich, and her kids moved to Grand Mound in 2005. They planned to live there only for five years. They’re staying now.
“The whole town adopted us,” she said.
AJ’s will be open 11 a.m. daily and close to around 10 p.m. on weekdays and around midnight on weekends. They brought in RJ Falconer, a culinary student who originally hails from New Mexico, to handle the cooking.
They plan to have daily specials and seasonal chili to accompany a variety of sandwich and burger baskets, salads and appetizers. A ribeye meal will be offered on Fridays.
Chad Miller, of Grand Mound, couldn’t contain his enthusiasm. He thinks the town has a bright future.
“We don’t want this to be a retirement town,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of young families buying houses and moving in. Honestly, I don’t know everyone anymore. That’s kind of cool.”