Super Bowl XLV: Pittsburgh. Green Bay. Two towns that love their football. And their communities. And their beer.
So who better to talk about the importance of the Packers and Steelers than two bar owners? We spoke to one in each respective football-crazy city, to find out what it's like to run a popular watering hole in the run-up to one of the most anticipated Super Bowls of all time.
Both men are longtime bar guys and diehard supporters of their local gridiron squads. They weigh in on what playoff success means to their bottom line, what they think of each other's organizations and whether they'll agree to a good old-fashioned bar bet.
Representing the Steelers: Jim Oliver, co-owner of Sunny Jim's Tavern.
And on behalf of the Packers: Ron Enke, owner of Champions Sports Bar & Grill.
It's Titletown vs. Iron City. Pick your poison.
You've both been in the bar business for a long time. How did you get started?
Oliver: My partner Mike Stachel and I have owned Sunny Jim's for 33 years, but it actually opened in 1943. It's just a coincidence that it's named Sunny Jim's. I bought the bar before I was legally allowed to drink in the bar. I love it. I told the regulars when I started that I wouldn't be here when their kids are old enough to drink. Now it's their kid's kids and I'm still here watching the Steelers.
Enke: I owned Michael's Pub in the town of Gays Mills, Wis., for more than 24 years. I started at 18, working road construction during the day while tending bar at night. I bought it a few years later and that's when I started accumulating and accumulating and accumulating my Packers memorabilia collection. Moving to Green Bay was always a dream of mine. I'd been at Michael's for almost 25 years and I felt like I wanted to do something different. I began looking around in 2003-04 and didn't see any place that had anything close to the collection of Packers stuff I have. I finally purchased some land in 2006. We were up and running in 102 days. I designed the layout of Champions, which includes a football-shaped bar. It's amazing to me that I'm just over a block from Lambeau Field. When I started out in Gays Mills way back when, people told me I would never even make it to Green Bay to see a Packers game. Here I am.
Since you mentioned it, tell us about your Packers collection, which is, in a word, epic.
Enke: I have somewhere between 5,000 and 5,500 pieces of Packers memorabilia, a lot of it autographed. I have all kinds of stuff, from an airbrushed helmet with Bart Starr and Brett Favre, to all kinds of jerseys, to a brick wall filled with signatures. One of my favorite items, because it's so unique, is a Reggie White helmet from when he played for the Memphis Showboats of the USFL. His widow told me she didn't even have one of those.
Tell us about the interesting features at Sunny Jim's.
Oliver: A couple of years ago we put up a 28-foot screen to project games for nighttime viewing. It's as clear as watching the TVs inside and it's really popular during the spring when the Stanley Cup playoffs are on. During the warm months we also have family movie nights. We're getting some heaters in place for the Super Bowl. We also have a creek that runs right under our dining room. I suspect when Sunny Jim's first opened, it was probably a small thing, but development changed that. During Hurricane Katrina, we were flooded with three feet of water. We had the bar up and running in a day, and the restaurant a few days after that. We made some structural changes, but it still flows under the dining room, so we always make sure our flood insurance is paid up.
What's the biggest challenge in running a bar?
Oliver: Appeasing everybody. They all think they're the boss and people can't comprehend when we makes changes. A few years ago, I hired a manager, Michele Master, who changed the seating policy from "Seat Yourself" to "See the Hostess." That shocked people. It was the hardest thing to get people to do things a little differently. Of course, now they love it, because the service is better. But at the time, it was like we quit serving beer or something.
Enke: Our biggest challenge was getting established. It takes a while normally, and it was right when the recession started to hit. Winning helps. It gets people out of the house and loosens up the wallets a little bit.
Has the recession affected your business?
Oliver: The last couple of years were tough. The bar business was steady, but the restaurant was way down. People were brown-bagging it and we had a lot of slow nights. It hit us hard because we're generally about a 50-50 split between bar and restaurant. Fortunately, the Steelers aren't the only game in town. We get a lot of college basketball fans, hockey is big around here and the Penguins have been going deep into the playoffs, and then there's the Pirates -- well, maybe not so much the Pirates.
Enke: It's been doubly hard because on weekends from April until preseason starts, Green Bay is basically a factory town where everyone heads to their cabins on Friday afternoon. It's a struggle until the Packers season kicks off.
At Sunny Jim's, you have a lot of stuff going on to get people in the house, right?
Oliver: Oh yeah, we like to have a good time here. We have live music with all different types of bands. We try to mix it up. Once a year, we bring in a hypnotist, which gets a good crowd. Another guy who who has become a big hit lately calls himself "The Highway Man." He looks just like Captain Morgan and people come on stage and sing with his band, like a live karaoke without the teleprompter. All kinds of folks come out of their shells and sing on stage with the Pittsburgh Pirate of Penzance.
What's it like in Green Bay on a football weekend?
Enke: Game day is phenomenal in Green Bay. It's a totally different kind of experience, way more than what I expected it to be. We have a capacity of 390 and on a regular weekend we might get 300 people total. During football season, 3,000-4,000 will pass through Champions. During the season, it doesn't even mater if its an away game.
Has the Sunny Jim's crowd changed a lot over the years?
Oliver: Years ago, it was mainly a blue-collar crowd of construction and ironworkers. Now, it's everybody. We get plenty of local businesspeople, so now we have Wi-Fi, because a lot of them bring clients to the "satellite office." We've been here for so long, the grandkids of old-time regulars come in with their grandparents. One of our favorite couples is in their 80s. They come all decked out for every Steelers game. We save a special table for them.
Do any of the players ever come in?
Oliver: Some of the old Steelers, like Mike Wagner, come in flashing their Super Bowl rings. The current Steelers don't hit up Sunny Jim's too often, but we get some of the Penguins in here. The coach Dan Bylsma comes in a lot.
Enke: I know a lot of the players because I started bringing them into Michael's Pub to sign autographs, a tradition we continue at Champions, so lots of guys drop in. Gilbert Brown is a good friend of mine and he always stops by whenever he's in town. Fuzzy Thurston watches all the Packer games here. We've hosted Jerry Kramer, Chuck Foreman, Gale Sayers, even Bobby Knight. I've gotten to meet a lot of the greats.
I'm guessing that the current playoff runs are good for everyone involved?
Oliver: Steelers crowds are always great, but the playoffs and the Super Bowl definitely help. These playoffs, fans are so psyched up for the game, so itching for Sunday, that they start coming in Tuesday. It's like when people celebrate their "birthday week" -- the playoffs bring in big crowds a week before kickoff. The Super Bowl is going to be insane.
Enke: Every Monday night we do a radio show from Champions called "The Fifth Quarter." It's a couple of local guys talking Packers. It's all Packers, all the time. I noticed that as this season has gone along, more and more people are showing up for the broadcast. I think this 2010 run in particular means a lot to Packers fans because we're moving on from the Favre era. Time will heal those wounds, but for right now, the town feels this team has a chance to create a legacy that's bigger than Brett.
Tell me what each of you thinks of the other's team.
Oliver: I've always liked and rooted for Green Bay in the NFC. People up here are just like in Pittsburgh. They know how to party. I'm not going down to Dallas, but I am jealous that I will miss out on the two best tailgating fans coming together.
Enke: The Packers playing the Steelers, the two most storied franchises in the NFL, makes this Super Bowl even more important than usual. I have a ton of respect for what they do in Pittsburgh -- always have.
I am proposing the first-ever AOL Small Business Super Bowl Wager: The winner sends the loser his picture, which has to be displayed in the bar for one year.
Enke: Count me in.
Don't think I won't hold you to it. OK, money where your mouth is. Predictions?
Oliver: Both teams have tough defenses, so I had to think about it, but I am going to go 27-24. Steelers!
Enke: I don't make predictions because they always backfire on me. So I won't say who is going to win, but I will say it'll be by three points.
Good luck this Sunday.
Name: Jim Oliver
Company: Sunny Jim's Tavern
2011 Projected Revenue: $1.3 million
Name: Ron Enke
Company: Champions Sports Bar & Grill
Location: Green Bay, Wis.
Employees: 20 year-round/75 in-season
2011 Projected Revenue: $1 million+
The original version of this article appeared on AOL Small Business on 2/5/11.