By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN This week will be the last week to order a Jimmy’s Pizza in Winsted. The business is scheduled to close Saturday, Jan. 1 or sooner if the inventory runs out.
Owner of Jimmy’s Pizza, Joe Caouette of Winsted blames the poor economy for Jimmy’s becoming just another business casualty in this area.
“Business had been good until about three years ago,” Caouette said. “It has kind of held its own until the last six months. But our food costs keep going up, and to be competitive, we have to bring our pizza prices down. We are not making nearly as much money as we used to on each pizza. It’s just really a tough time for small businesses.”
The decision to close Jimmy’s should probably have been made sooner, according to Caouette, but he had employees counting on him for their income and that made him delay his decision for almost two-and-a-half years.
“That was the hardest thing for me,” Caouette said. “I don’t care about the business. I really don’t. It’s the relationship I have with these kids.”
One of those employees is Dan First of Winsted, who is currently the manager at Jimmy’s.
“He was one of the first kids I hired 15 years ago, as a dishwasher,” Caouette said.
Three years ago, when Caouette started working at Glenn’s SuperValu full time to supplement the family income, Dan was Caouette’s first choice for manager of Jimmy’s.
Initially, Caouette had even considered selling the business to First, but said he no longer feels good about doing that.
“I think closing Jimmy’s, in the long run, will be good for him because it will force him to finish getting his degree in accounting,” Caouette said.
Over the years, Caouette estimates he has employed approximately 150 kids.
Employees hired at Jimmy’s are usually 15 years old and start out as a dishwasher. Once they get their driver’s license, they start delivering pizzas.
“We usually have 15 people at all times. When the kids go away to college, we hire new kids,” Caouette said.
Doug and Diane Remer’s five oldest children, from Howard Lake, all have been employed at Jimmy’s by Caouette.
“Joe is exactly the type of person any parent would want as their teenager’s first boss,” Diane Remer said.
“He really cares about his employees and in turn, they care about him. In winter there was never a pizza that needed to be delivered bad enough that he would risk putting kids out on icy roads. Knowing he put their safety first gave us peace of mind. Our kids have high respect for Joe, and all six have maintained great friendships with him that have continued beyond their teenage years.”
Luke, the Remers’ youngest son, who attends sixth grade at Holy Trinity, had been looking forward to the time when he would be old enough to work at Jimmy’s like his older brothers and sisters.
Because the business is closing, Caouette has had Luke up there occasionally, helping out for the last few days the business is open.
It’s what Caouette is known for thinking of others and putting other’s needs first never saying no to anyone when asked for a donation or a discount on a pizza for a cause.
Caouette doesn’t remember how many free Jimmy’s pizza certificates he has given away over the years, but he knows it’s hundreds.
“If people came into the shop, I would always give them something. I wasn’t always able to give a cash donation, but we were always able to give them a free pizza,” Caouette said.
In addition to asking for free pizzas, Jimmy’s was also asked to open up before and after normal work hours for special occasions. It was Caouette, himself, who worked most of those extra hours.
“The restaurant business is different than other jobs,” Doug Remer said. “You need to be working when everyone else is off. Sometimes, you sacrifice and miss out on other things because you have to be in the shop at night, and that can get old.”
Jimmy’s restaurant on the main floor of the building at 1st St. N. will remain intact, according to Caouette. He has been partners in the pizza business with his father-in-law, Darrell Lachermeier of Howard Lake, since the beginning. Lachermeier owns the building, and Caouette has run the business.
The two have decided that leaving the restaurant as it is, might be an asset in renting it again in the future.
“It’s something none of the other buildings that are sitting empty in town have,” Caouette said.
There have been 300 to 400 pizzas made a week at Jimmy’s since it opened, and Caouette wants everyone who has bought a pizza from him to know that he appreciates their support.
Until Jimmy’s closes at the end of the week, Caouette’s whole family has been there to help him out. When the business closes, there won’t be any extra dollars to pay the employees, so his family has volunteered their services for free. All of them have worked at Jimmy’s previously.
There is Joe’s wife, Natalie (Lachermeier); their oldest daughter, Ashley, who is married to Josh Clark. They live in Winsted and are expecting their second child in March. Daughters Nicole Caouette of Winsted, and Amber Caouette of Howard Lake, and son, Spencer Caouette, a freshman at Holy Trinity; and Joe’s brother-in-law, Brian Lachermeier of Watertown are all helping out.