Herald JournalHerald Journal, Feb. 7, 2005

New owners at Blue Note, but they're still brothers

By Ryan Gueningsman
Staff Writer

Keeping an almost 50-year tradition intact, local brothers Neil, 28, and Jacob Schlagel, 26, took over ownership of the Blue Note Jan. 1 from brothers Craig and Jeff Campbell.

Since 1956, when the Ruzicka brothers, Ray and the late Clifford, took over ownership of the Blue Note – brothers have owned the establishment.

After the Ruzickas, Don and Bob Bayerl owned it for just more than 20 years, selling to Craig and Jeff Campbell in 1995. Now, after nine years in the business, the Campbell brothers have decided to move on, selling the business to the Schlagels.

“Cob (Jacob) didn’t have a job, so we bought him a job, and now we’re working on trying to find him a girlfriend,” joked Neil Schlagel about why they bought the establishment.

Neil said he knew he and his brother were going to go into business together at some point, but weren’t sure with exactly what until the Blue Note presented itself to them.

Jacob graduated from Sauk Centre High School in 1997, and St. John’s University, with a degree in management, in 2001. For the last three years, he has worked at CitiGroup doing collecting and accounting work.

Neil graduated from Sauk Centre High School in 1994 and attended college at North Dakota State University, graduating with a degree in business administration.

He had been employed at Herald Journal Publishing as a sales representative.

The brothers have strong local ties with their grandparents, Ken and Irene Norman, and Mixie and the late Danny Schlagel, all of Winsted.

As they were growing up, Jacob and Neil’s parents, Brad and Barb Schlagel, owned and operated a bar in Norwood Young America called The Flame Lounge, Jacob said, adding that the brothers would clean the bar, cook, and help with inventory. When Neil became of age, he helped bartend.

“Our parents owned a bar for about 15 years, and I’ve always wanted to own a business with Neil,” Jacob said.

“When there was a deejay or band, Neil and I would make a fort of empty beer boxes in the off-sale side and listen to the bands,” Jacob recalled. “Sometimes, a drunk guy would stumble in and wreck our fort.”

He said that both brothers are going to be doing all aspects of the business at the Blue Note – from cooking, to tending bar, to payroll and other administrative issues, such as scheduling.

Looking back through the years at the bar

The building that is now the Blue Note was originally built as a lumber yard by Lesters Inc. of Lester Prairie, according to the Winsted Centennial Book published in 1987.

The lumber yard opened in July 1949 and continued on to the fall of 1955 when it was sold to Vern Miller and Doc Campbell of Winsted, who changed it to the ballroom and liquor store.

Miller and Campbell each had a half share of the ballroom, and Miller was the complete owner of the liquor store business.

Raymond and Clifford Ruzicka bought Miller’s share of the business in 1956. The Liquor Store Bar was located where the supper club is now.

A new on-sale lounge was built in 1962 and the off-sale addition was also constructed at this time. Over the winter of 1962 and 1963, the old bar was gutted and rebuilt into what is now the supper club room.

The Ruzickas then bought Campbell’s share of the ballroom and proceeded to add a new addition to the south end of the ballroom in 1967.

The stage was moved to a new location and the ballroom bar was moved to a larger size room. Brothers Don and Bob Bayerl purchased the Blue Note from the Ruzickas July 1, 1973.

The off-sale portion of the building was enlarged in 1980 for more cooler display and storage for more products. The supper club portion of the business was remodeled in 1983.

In 1995, the Bayerl brothers sold the business to Craig and Jeff Campbell of Winsted. The Campbells did some remodeling of the ballroom area, as well as creating more of a recreational atmosphere in the front portion, installing two pool tables, televisions, and two dart boards.

The Campbells also began and participated in different leagues – pool, darts, horseshoes, and Polish horseshoes, among others.

At this point, the Schlagels aren’t planning to make any immediate changes to the establishment, although Jacob noted he’s hoping they can get more activity in the ballroom.

Some changes have also been made with the catering portion of the business, Neil noted. Some employees from Gail’s Catering, which was based in Watertown, have been hired by the Blue Note.

“We’re also looking at shaking a few things up in the restaurant,” Neil said, noting that the establishment’s specials change daily.

Whether to bring back the popular Wednesday night chicken is something the Schlagel brothers are contemplating, but haven’t made any decisions about yet.

The two are going to remain sponsors of the Winstock Country Music Festival, as well as continue to promote local sports.

Both brothers have played baseball for the Winsted Wildcats for the past several years, and Neil has served as president of the Howard Lake Business Association and vice president of the Montrose Waverly Chamber of Commerce.

“The people have been great so far. Jeff and Laurie (Campbell) have helped out a lot and been really good to work with,” Neil said. “We hope to maintain the same type of crowd and same atmosphere.”

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