WEST FARGO — The opening of JoJo’s, an Italian restaurant in the former Tru Blu Social Club, has been postponed to about mid-September due to shipping delays for items such as furniture and difficulties hiring enough people to properly staff the restaurant, a member of the ownership group said.
Stephan Hesse, a co-owner of Eclectic Culinary Concepts, the restaurant group that owns JoJo’s and Fargo’s Lucky’s 13 Pub near the West Acres mall, said opening JoJo’s at 915 13th Ave. E. will require some flexibility and creativity.
“We’ll just pivot with what we have,” Hesse said in a recent interview with The Pioneer.
“Staffing has been an issue,” Hesse said, but not a problem limited to the bar and restaurant industry, rather extending across the hospitality, retail and other sectors of the economy.
“It’s hurting everywhere,” Hesse said. “We have hired about 40% of the staff” needed to open seven days a week.
The tight labor market has affected staffing at Lucky’s 13, too, he said. Fortunately, employees have pitched in and taken on more shifts, he said.
At JoJo’s, hours will be adjusted, depending on the number of people that can be hired and trained. The goal is to serve lunch and dinner seven days a week, but Hesse said the restaurant might start opening for dinner only.
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The grab-and-go menu of the JoJo’s to GoGo area (which also has an entrance on the south side of the restaurant), may also be able to cover lunches, by offering salads and reheatable pasta dishes and desserts.
And the menu has been trimmed to make it easier on kitchen staff.
The opening of JoJo’s in West Fargo will give Eclectic Culinary Concepts 14 restaurants. The company also owns the Lucky’s 13 in Bismarck.
Hesse said it’s hoped that the restaurant’s furniture arrives by the end of August or early September.
“It’s back ordered, and back ordered and back ordered,” Hesse said.
The restaurant industry has also seen the prices for proteins, vegetables and other items jump “30 to 40%,” Hesse said, something that’s difficult to manage on thin profit margins.
“We’re just figuring out what we need to do. We’ll keep pivoting and adjusting,” Hesse said. “We’re trying to do whatever we can to get people to come to us and feel comfortable” working at JoJo’s.
The restaurant will seat about 100 in the dining area and another 100 in the bar area., General Manager Sam Dancer said during a short tour of the eatery Friday, Aug. 13.
JoJo’s retains the big horseshoe bar from Tru Blu, as well as the arched brick ceiling that leads into the bar and restaurant from the front door. But after that, the rest of the restaurant was gutted and remodeled. Several television sets have also been added.
Dancer said the JoJo’s to Go Go area will be good for people looking to pick up a quick-to-prepare family meal, or for those who want to stick with pandemic precautions.
“It’s nice to have this option,” Dancer said. “People still want to eat out.”
The menu includes appetizers, starters, polenta boards, sandwiches, Sicilian-style pizza (the meats and cheeses are on the base, covered by the pizza sauce), soups, salads, pastas and desserts.
Dancer, who was born and raised in Fargo, has been in the restaurant industry 10 years, about half of that time with Lucky’s 13. He said he’s enjoyed seeing the transformation of the Tru Blu space into JoJo’s
“I just love being able to go from start to finish,” Dancer said. “It’s been really fun to go through it.”
Tru Blu first opened in August 2017, but had been closed since mid-March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tru Blu and Fargo’s Lucky’s 13 Pub were among 11 restaurants acquired by Twin Cities-based Eclectic Culinary Concepts. The purchase was announced in late January of this year and financial details of the transaction were not released.
The acquisition included Lucky’s 13 Pub locations in Bloomington, Burnsville, Mendota, Plymouth, and Roseville, Minn, Bismarck, N.D., and the Fargo restaurant at 4301 17th Ave. S.; a former Rudy’s Redeye Grill in Rosemount, Minn.; Yankee Tavern in Eagan, Minn; Tru Blu; and Me & Julio in Hastings, Minn.