In 1968, Ernie and Rosie Jacobson were operating successful pizza business in Albert Lea. Ernie looked west to expand the business and soon Fairmont had a Jake's Pizza of its own. "Dad thought Fairmont was a good town so he and my brother, Larry, started a store here," said Mark Jacobson, who until Thursday operated the restaurant for 34 years.
Jake's originally was located where Profinium Financial is today. Mark helped remodel the building before leaving for a military tour in Vietnam. When he returned, he planned to go to college, so while he waited for the next semester to begin, he worked at Jake's. But Larry wanted to go to college too and persuaded Mark to buy his share of the business. It was September 1970. Mark and his wife, Sue have enjoyed running the business since.
But on July I, 2004(to present), the Fairmont institution entered a new era when Jeff and Kim Ehlert took over. Kim has worked for Jacobson for about 25 years. The two families have been discussing the move for about two years. Jacobson said, but he wanted to make sure his daughters did not want to run the business. Neither did, clearing the way for the Ehlerts to buy out Jacobson.
The restaurant has played a major role for the Jacobsons and Ehlerts, Mark and Sue rim the business with Ernie, then later their daughters, Nikki and Sarah, worked there. "I started them working when they were about 13 years old, "Mark said, "first baking and then later Nikki waitressed. The girls worked at Jake's through high school and on breaks from college.
The Ehlerts' three children, Jade, Shaina and Shea also have worked at Jake's, Shea works there now, but will be leaving for college in the fall. Jeff worked for Mark for two years when he was in high school. "I came over to visit some friends and Mark said, 'What are you doing?" Jeff recalled. "He told me I could start working, I told him I already had a job, but he said “You can do both.''
Jeff has been back at Jake's for more than a year, preparing to take over the business. "We had to break him in," . Kim quipped. On his last day of ownership, Mark, Jeff and Kim sat around a table at Jake's and reminisced about the business' history.
"My wife and I can still remember starting out when we were young," Mark said, "We lived above the pizza shop and we didn't have any air conditioning so when it was hot we left the windows open all night. That was before 1-90 was in and all those hog trucks would come by and when they downshifted on that curve, those pigs would start squealing," and the smell," Another memory, albeit not a fond one, was the operating hours they kept in the early days. "We opened later," Mark said. "We started at 5 p.m. and stayed open until 2 a.m. I remember that Susie and I would sit there waiting on (late night revelers) to leave.” A couple of years later, closing moved back to 1 a.m. and then to midnight when Jake's moved to its present location in 1975. "Now we have sweet hours.” Mark said.
He also recalled days when a large pizza sold for $3 and gas for delivery drivers was 32 cents. Kim remembers there were fewer items on the menu in those days, They also went through so many cans of soda that trash cans were regularly overflowing with empties, One incident that rises to the top of Jacobson's memories is his 20th anniversary customer appreciation sale. “I thought I would be nice and have a customer appreciation night," Mark said. He did not realize how the restaurant's popularity would affect that notion. "Not knowing how to go about it, I offered a buy one, get one free deal. You didn't need a coupon, you could just walk in and make an order. "We ran out of everything. We ran out of dough and we had to make more. We ran out of supplies and the phone was ringing off the hook," he said. "People weren't just ordering one pizza," added Kim. "They were ordering as many as they could afford. They were ordering five at a time. I had ads in the paper and on the radio," said Mark, laughing. "So I called the radio station and told them to stop running the ads immediately. I thought it was a nice gesture, but boy did that backfire."
Jacobson is proud of the many years Jake's has served the Fairmont area. He also is proud of the fact that many families have been employed at Jake's, including parents and siblings. "People always like working for him," Jeff said. Several current employees. like Kim, have worked more than two decades at Jake's. Toni Galpin has been there for 28 years and Ruthe Young for 27. "I guess if you treat people decent they will keep with you," Mark said. ''Toni was the first daytime waitress I hired when we moved here. I am surprised at the number of people around here who have worked for me." The years have brought unique loyalty to Jake's on the part of customers. Mark hears parents tell him their kids' enjoyed working there. He also hears about people who move away and upon coming back to visit make Jake's a priority stop.
Over the years, the pizza place has been a meeting place for area youth as well. With the transfer of ownership, nothing is really going to change, according to the Ehlerts. However, the front of the building will be getting a facelift. Mark said. And he might not stay out of the business for long. He will always be available to help the Ehlerts, he said, and one of his daughters said when her husband is out of the military, they may start a pizza place. "But , that's only going to be on a consulting basis," Mark said with a smile. "At least that's how it will start."