Neal Minela has already made his mark in Galesburg. In the past year, he has purchased two buildings in town and is in the process of reinventing them as successful businesses. In the midst of completing funding for the Brass Elk, a newly planned renovation project to create a medium scale music venue, he was presented with an interesting offer: Fat Fish Pub. The business was up for sale and at a cheap price. To Minela, this was an opportunity too good to pass up. He now sits with two businesses with upward momentum.
TKS: What circumstances led to Fat Fish being available for you to purchase it?
NM: The owner was just kind of ready to retire. There was too much to take care of on a day to day basis. I can’t blame him, the whole thing so far has been draining. It’s been 12 to 15 hour days this whole month. It’s starting to level out though. I’ve got the kitchen opened back up and staff in line. I’ve spent a lot of time either here or home sleeping. It’s a lot for one person.
TKS: How does running Fat Fish affect the construction on the Brass Elk?
NM: We finally got the new roof on the Elk, and that was a huge step. Now that we have this place, we can step back and put some perspective on what we want to do with that place, instead of rushing it. Now that we have [Fat Fish] going, we can put some of the profits from it into the construction costs at the Elk.
TKS: What are your plans for expansion for Fat Fish?
NM: We want to keep things relatively the same. The previous owner is still involved and he still brings in the blues acts that he wants to bring in. They’ve always done great for him. As far as music goes, I want to keep it fresh for everybody. Every weekend I’ve got something booked all the way into November and even some in December. Knox College Jazz is playing again every Thursday night, and they are a huge part of our lineup. We’ve also got some roots and country music coming in, with local bands playing some weekends too. Overall, my biggest goal is to diversify the music as much as possible.
TKS: Coming into the already established Fat Fish, how did you decide what needed to change?
NM: Playing in my own band for the last five years, we’ve played in a lot of different places. We’ve seen a lot of different themes, and I’m trying to take the best of everything I’ve seen and incorporated it here. What it comes down to is just good food, good entertainment and good service. If you’ve got a solid menu, good music coming in and your staff is doing their jobs and is ready to go, that’s really all it takes in my opinion. There’s a lot to it and I’ve been busting my butt for the last month and a half. It’s starting to level out, but there’s something that comes up every day.
TKS: Where does Fat Fish see itself among the other bars and restaurants in town?
NM: Every place has their own niche. For instance, Duffy’s is the Cubs bar, it’s the Cubs bar, there’s no getting around that. And I don’t want to take that from them because I like to go down there and watch Cubs games, you know? Every place has their own things going for them and we just want to create our own vibe on this side of town. We want to be another place in town that people like to go. I don’t see them as competition, I see them as colleagues.
TKS: Now that you have a second business in town, do you plan on continuing to expand?
NM: Absolutely, why not? At the same time, maybe not. I’m not one of those people who is going out to make a million bucks in my lifetime. I grew up middle class, I can stay middle class. If I can live comfortably and be able to pay my staff a living wage, I’m cool with that. I’m not the type to go and buy that Ferrari. I’m just a middle class guy that got sick of making money for other people, so if I can live comfortably. I’m cool with that.
TKS: If these businesses do extremely well, will you stay in Galesburg or move on?
NM: I moved here for a reason. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. I go back for family, but it’s just traffic and people rushing around. This is a nice slower pace where you can still get things done. I don’t plan on moving out of here.