You might recognize the name Jim Jennings from the liquor store on Excelsior Blvd. Or maybe you heard mention of him when he was inducted into the Minnesota Hospitality Hall of Fame last fall.
Born in 1923, Jennings grew up in Minneapolis. After attending the University of Minnesota and playing football there, he was drafted into the Army in 1942 and went on to serve in World War II. Jennings’ father opened a liquor store at 4608 Excelsior Boulevard in 1946, which he operated until he passed away in 1951. Jennings’ mother, Harriet, continued to run the store until Jim purchased it from her in the early 1960s. Over time, Jennings grew it from a modest business into one of the busiest stores in the suburbs.
Building a Legacy
In 1963, Jennings opened Red Coach Inn in St. Louis Park. “It was my first shot at the restaurant business,” he says. “I really didn’t know much about restaurants, but I believed if I made sure I had great food, top-notch service and I could create a place where people could go meet friends or get away from their problems, I would be successful.”
Jennings says that he realized in order to survive, he needed to build his business one customer at a time—which is just what he did. Over time, the Red Coach Inn became a western suburb landmark.
In 1971, Jennings took part of the liquor store space and opened a casual bar and grill called Timothy O’Toole’s Pub. Then, in 1987, he decided to move the liquor store to a building just to the east of the original location and opened Gipper’s All-American Sports Bar and Grill.
“With the Red Coach Inn, Gipper’s, O’Toole’s and Jennings Liquors sitting side by side, things were really great for about 10 more years,” Jennings says.
However, when the city of St. Louis Park decided to build the Excelsior & Grand development, Jennings was forced to close and sell all four of his establishments on Excelsior Boulevard in 1999. Fortunately, Jennings had two other restaurants—Scoreboard Bar and Grill in Minnetonka, and JJ’s Clubhouse in Golden Valley—to rely on.
“I was also fortunate that the building across from the Red Coach Inn went up for sale,” he says. “I bought it and re-opened Jennings Liquors in what is now its current location.”
In 2014, Jennings’ son, Mike, became more involved after the store’s long-time manager left. Mike helped with updates, which included a remodel, adding more than 200 craft beers and doubling the wine selection.
“The change really helped Jennings Liquor to better compete with other stores in the area,” he says.
Over the years, Mike has attributed his business knowledge to his father: “His belief that providing the highest-quality food, top-notch service and a friendly and upbeat atmosphere is the difference between being successful or failing,” he explains. “My dad started that philosophy 52 years ago, and it’s still the way we both operate our businesses today.”
A Growing Community
Jennings says he’s been lucky to have the support of longtime customers, “but the best part of it is watching the grown children of many of our original longtime customers coming into our places today,” he says. “Every day, people come up and talk to me about how their parents came to our places back in the ’60s and ’70s.”
Over the years, Jennings has also watched the evolution of St. Louis Park.
“Back in the 1960s and earlier, it was a great little city with a lot of young families moving in,” says Jennings, who’s watched the population change over time. “It’s really amazing to watch the transitioning over the past 60 years from young to older to young again,” he says.