By Ben Karkela
Warren Ackley believes he could make a bar out of anything. After working in the restaurant industry for 30 years, he knows exactly how to make one right.
“Every room I go into I think, it’d be nice to have a bar in here,” Ackley said.
Ackley and his business partner, Randy Thoreson, opened JL Beers on 518 First Ave. N. in downtown Fargo last fall with resounding success. JL Beers attracts a large crowd in a small space. Even in the dead of winter, people wait outside to get a seat at the hottest bar in town.
“You’d like to think it’s popular because you’re doing something right,” Ackley said. “Hopefully, the beer is cold and the food is hot. The location helps, obviously, but everything has to be right.”
What is the secret to the bar’s success? Simplicity.
The bar is only 13 feet, 7 inches wide. The menu offers only six entrees, all of them hamburgers. Fresh chips or fries round out their food options.
Small menu, a lot of beers
The small menu keeps it simple for the customers, as well as the staff. Customers can find what they want and get their food quickly. A burger takes less than three minutes to be cooked and served. Simplicity rules at JL Beers.
A small menu also allows for a small inventory. The meat never touches a freezer and the fries are made to order using one whole potato.
What really sets JL Beers apart from other bars is its beer selection. Thirty-two types of beer line the tap, each of them with its own flavor and character. The beer on tap offers something for everybody. They range from light, refreshing beer to something with a full body and a wide range of flavors that customers can sip and savor.
The staff knows their stuff
The beer menu lists the origin of the beer, alcohol content and a description of the taste. For those unsure of what to order, ask the server what he or she recommends.
The staff at JL Beers is friendly and knowledgeable. Ackley brings in a “beer educator” to train the staff so they may help customers select a beer that’s right for them. The training gets the staff involved and creates their passion for the bar, something Ackley expects of his employees.
A beer drinker’s dream
Amazingly, every one of the 32 beers on tap sells. Even the most popular beer is not far off from the least popular.
Don’t forget about the wide variety of beers available in cans. Eighty-five total beers can be purchased. A customer could order a new beer every week and it would take well over a year to try each and every one.
If Ackley had more room to work with, he would put even more beer on tap.
A beer for everyone
To taste multiple types of beer without falling off the barstool drunk, order a “flight of beer.”
Warren Ackley, co-owner of JL Beers.
Photo by Ben Karkela
The flights come with six types of beer, each in a 5-ounce glass. Hop aboard the flight to take a tour of the taps. Four flights are available and they offer beer categorized by styles and location of the breweries.
“I really enjoyed the large selection of beer. It gave me a chance to try something I normally wouldn’t have been able to,” North Dakota State student Kody Olmstead said. “I think if you want a little more culture, you can do that by trying more beer.”
Inspiration drawn from other small bars
Ackley owns the building JL Beers sits in. The space became available when the Red Shoe moved to Vlana Vlee. Ackley decided to put in a burger/beer bar. To develop the bar’s personality, Ackley traveled the country visiting bars to gather ideas and inspirations for his own place. The smaller the bars he visited, the better. After all, he had less than 14 feet to work with.
Ackley purchased a state-of-the-art grill called a topside cooker. The heat source of the grill comes from the top and the bottom, which encapsulates the burger and seals in juices. The chrome-mirrored grill offers quality and speed. The grill prevents heat from escaping the cooking surface — important in an open kitchen.
Getting the word out
Ackley uses social media to advertise JL Beers and keep his customers informed of new menu items and promotions. More than 400 people became fans of JL Beers on Facebook in just four days. People also can sign up to receive texts and Twitter updates on new promotions. A new Web site lists the full menu, too.
Advertisements will not be limited to social media, though. Ackley believes that is useful for keeping the customers he already has, but may not bring in new customers. Expect to see other ads pop up on the radio or in print.
Seats in high demand
The bar’s popularity and small size make getting a seat difficult. During lunch and dinner people wait outside to get a seat. Ackley says he rarely sees a group larger than four come at the same time because they know finding four open seats may be impossible.
The success of JL Beers leaves Ackley with the option of opening more locations or franchising the bar. He’s interested, but it is too early to tell.
**Installment one of a three-segment package about JL Beers.