Jake’s marking 50 years

Jeff and Kim Ehlert pose outside their restaurant in downtown Fairmont. Jake’s Pizza will celebrate its 50th year as a local institution this fall.

Fairmont’s iconic pizza place — Jake’s Pizza — will celebrate 50 years of business this fall.

In a Sentinel article dated Oct. 3, 1968, the announcement was made that Jake’s would open, operated by 23-year-old Larry Jacobson whose parents, Ernie and Rosie Jacobson, were running a similar place in Albert Lea.

Original operating hours were 5 p.m. until as late as business required.

The article stated that while principal attention would be paid to pizza, the restaurant would also offer ham-and-cheese sandwiches and “jiffy-burgers.”

Delivery service was offered, with a specially equipped vehicle taking food out within a radius of two miles for 25 cents.

According to history found on Jake’s website, it wouldn’t be long before Larry’s brother Mark would take over. Larry persuaded his brother to buy his share of the business, and Mark and his wife Sue then operated the much-loved restaurant for 34 years, until 2004. The business then changed hands for only the third time. It is now owned by Jeff and Kim Ehlert.

“I started working for Mark and Sue in the 1970s,” Kim said. “So when we took over in 2004, nothing was different. Mark and Susie spent a lot of time up north because they had a home they were building, so he was gone quite a bit and I was kind of looking over the business when he was gone.

“I’ve been here 40 years and when we took over in 2004 we kept everything the same; we didn’t want to change everything right away.”

“The only thing that we’ve ‘changed’ as far as the menu is to add new items,” Jeff said. “But the sauce, cheese and recipes are the same; we haven’t changed any of that in 50 years, and Mark never changed it either. So it’s about as original as you can get in 50 years.

“We still have to buy the spices that we use in our sauce and our sausage meat from Mark; it’s still a secret and we have no idea what it is,” Jeff said. “We know what spices are in the recipe so that we can tell people for their allergies, but we don’t know what the amounts are.

“It all comes pre-measured and we still make our own sauce; it is not a canned sauce,” he said.

“Our dough is also made in house,” Kim said.

The Ehlerts say everything is made daily, with sauce and dough made twice per day. All of the available soups are also homemade.

When asked what they each enjoy about the business, Jeff said he enjoys his position and making pizza, while Kim likes the family atmosphere with their daytime employees. The Ehlerts also noted how much they enjoy working with the high school kids that come through. Jeff said there are about eight people who work during the day, and a multitude of young people who work off and on in the evenings.

“A lot of the college kids come back after working through high school,” he said. “They’ll come in on a weekend or during the summer time. There’s many times I’ll walk through the door and I haven’t seen somebody for two years and all of a sudden they’re working for me and I don’t even know it. They just call up and see if some kid wants the day off and they just surprise us. But it’s kind of a cool thing, and they’re all welcome back.”

“We have a lot of repeat customers too,” Kim said. “We know a lot of them on a first-name basis, and we’ll often end up with families that work here.”

While the menu has stayed pretty much the same, the building, located in downtown Fairmont, has had some remodeling done. Jeff said Mark remodeled the outside, while he and Kim have done some work inside.

More history on the restaurant can be found online at www.jakespizzafairmontmn.com

“It’s been enjoyable, and I wouldn’t want to go back and do anything else,” Jeff said.

“We’re happy we’re still in Fairmont,” Kim said. “We have family and friends that are still here and enjoy the small town community.”