Torch passed at Jake’s Pizza

Above: Kim and Jeff Ehlert, left, long-time owners of Jake’s Pizza in Fairmont, are retiring and handing off the business to their children, Shea Ehlert and Shaina (Ehlert) Scheppmann, right. The transfer will take place Feb. 1.

FAIRMONT– Jake’s Pizza in Fairmont, a staple for many, is about to see a change of ownership as long-time owners Jeff and Kim Ehlert pass the torch off to their children, Shea Ehlert and Shaina (Ehlert) Sheppmann. The two will officially take over the business Feb.1.

While Jeff and Kim have owned Jake’s since 2004, they’ve both worked there much longer. They started as high schoolers, Jeff in 1972 and Kim in 1973. At that time Mark Jacobson owned the restaurant.

“It was up on the hill by Profinium,” said Kim.

In 1976 Jake’s changed to its current location on Downtown Plaza.

Both Jeff and Kim graduated high school and went off to school– Jeff to business school and Kim to Jackson, though she continued to work a Jake’s.

The couple married in 1980 and moved to Worthington for five years. Then they returned to Fairmont and Jeff became an owner at Enderson’s, which was across the street from Jake’s

“Mark decided he was going to retire. Jeff and I talked about it and thought it would be a good fit for us,” Kim said.

Jeff and Kim aren’t the only ones who got an early start in the pizza business. All three of their children worked at Jake’s.

Shaina started when she was 15, working as both a baker and a waitress. Shea started as a baker at 16. Their other daughter Jade also started waitressing at 15.

They all graduated high school and left to pursue careers of their own. Shaina went to culinary school. She also studied business management.

“After college I opened Jake’s Pizza in Hutchinson. That was open from 2008 to 2013,” Shaina said.

Most recently she’s been working as a sales rep for Sysco Foods.

Shea got a degree in Law Enforcement from Normandale and then went on to Minnesota State University-Mankato, where he studied communication.

“I also worked for Sysco for about four years and was most recently managing a security team in the Twin Cities,” Shea said.

Jade (Ehlert) Roper is in the medical field but lives nearby, in Blue Earth, with her family.

While all three of Jeff and Kim’s children explored their own interests and started their own careers, the topic of what would happen to the restaurant when their retirement came was always a conversation.

“I always knew it was an option,” Shea said of taking over the business.

Shaina said it became a more serious conversation for her and Shea in the past few years.

“The opportunity was available and we had to decide if that’s what we wanted to do,” Shaina said.

Jeff said closing the restaurant wasn’t an idea and that they had a long list of people who were interested in taking it over. He and Kim gave their kids about a year’s notice that they were ready to retire which allowed Shaina and Shea to move back to Fairmont. A move they were both happy to make.

“This was a reason to come back,” Shea said.

He said he likes that it’s more personal living in a town where you run into people that you know.

“It feels very welcoming to be here. A lot of people in the surrounding area support Jake’s Pizza,” Shaina said.

She made the move with her husband, Daren, and their five-year-old daughter Mabel. She said Daren knows the business and can help out but works remotely for Fairview Health Services. His flexible work schedule allowed them to relocate to Fairmont.

As for changes the new owners will bring, Shaina said they’ll be minimal. She said they may upgrade the technology in the future in order to make things more convenient for customers.

“Our staff is the same. Our hours are the same,” Shaina said.

The menu will remain the same, too. It features 13 specialty pizzas plus a variety of additional toppings. Jake’s also offers soups, salads, sandwiches and wraps.

The three core ingredients that make Jake’s Pizza so special, the cheese, the dough and the sauce, have remained the same since 1968 when Marc Jacobson opened the restaurant and started making pies.

“They’ll always stay the same,” said Shea.

“And we want them to stay the same. We love Jake’s Pizza. You can’t get this pizza anywhere else,” added Shaina.

Speaking of their retirement, Kim said, “We could tell it was time for us to hang up our hat.”

Yet Kim plans to keep working at Jake’s from time to time. She said she’s worked there 44 years and still going strong. Jeff will be available for “emergency use only,” he jokingly said.

“I’m looking forward to Jeff not having the responsibility anymore. It’s a lot of work,” said Kim.

The two plan to travel and get more time in on the golf course and on the lake. They also look forward to spending uninterrupted time with family, which includes their four grandkids.

As for what they’ll miss the most, Jeff said the workers. He and Kim have cycled through dozens, if not hundreds of employees during their time as owners. Jake’s has long-been a popular employment spot for high-schoolers, many of whom return as college students and beyond.

Of course, they’ll both miss making pizzas, too.

“I can stand here and make pizzas all day. It’s my favorite part of the job,” said Jeff.

“We’ll enjoy eating pizza now without having to make it ourselves. We can have it delivered,” said Kim with a laugh.

A bittersweet ending, but one that they both feel good about.

“We’re excited. We know it will be taken over in good hands,” Kim said.

Jeff said, “The tradition will continue with these guys. They’ll do better than we did.”


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