Jim Wisocki is still upset.
He canâ€™t bring himself to drive by the Pickwick Restaurant in Duluth, which his family owned and operated for more than 90 years.
â€œIâ€™m hurt, Iâ€™m really hurt,â€ he says. â€œIt hurts right through your heart, it really does, when you canâ€™t drive by the family business.â€
His attempt to buy the landmark Duluth restaurant from his nephew, Chris Wisocki, to keep it in the family, was rebuffed, he says.
â€œI had two investors, and he wouldnâ€™t work with me,â€ said Jim, 56, of Duluth. â€œHeâ€™s my nephew and he wouldnâ€™t work with me.â€
Instead, Â Chris Wisocki sold the restaurant to Tim and Amy Wright. With restaurant and resort experience, the couple are restoring the landmark Duluth restaurant to its 1940s look. Work, which began last month, should be nearing completion. Hiring is underway and theyâ€™re preparing to re-open the pub and eatery that closed April 18.
Chris Wisocki, 37. was the last of four generations of Wisocki family to own and run the restaurant at 508 E. Superior St., next to the historic Fitgerâ€™s Brewery Complex. His father, Stephen, and uncle, Anthony, ran the restaurant from 1977 until their retirements in 2001. Thatâ€™s when Chris took over.
After several years of business problems under Chris Wisockiâ€™s management, including labor conflicts at the union restaurant, he decided to sell.
The sale to the Wrights closed June 28.
â€œItâ€™s a shame he wouldnâ€™t let the restaurant be kept in the family,â€ said Jim, who is the younger brother of former owners Stephen and Anthony. â€œAfter 96 years, why wouldnâ€™t you want to keep it in the family?â€
Chris Wisocki did not respond to my request for an interview.
But his brother, Adam Wisocki said: â€œI hardly see it as a 96-year-old tradition thatâ€™s gone awry, since (the Pickwick) will continue. It doesnâ€™t necessarily have to be a Wisocki. Itâ€™s just another chapter in its long life.â€
Jim said he approached Chris Wisocki about buying the restaurant last winter.Â He said he was prepared to pay $2.5 million. But Chris wanted $3 million, then raised the price to $3.2 million, according to Jim.
He Â admitted he had been critical of Chrisâ€™ management of the restaurant, its menu and the Chrisâ€™s dealings with his unionized workers that led to picketing. And Jim said so.
â€œIf you treat your employees the way you would treat your customers, then you would be successful, because they would be happy to work for you then,â€ Jim said. â€œYou hire an employee to make money for you.â€
The rift, according to Jim, likely culminated in sharp words between the two at the restaurant on April 17, its last day of operation before closing for the change of ownership. Jim said he was escorted peacefully out by police.
Said Adam Wisocki of his uncle Jim: â€œHe left nasty messages on answering machines, belittling my brother. Just based on that, I wouldnâ€™t have sold it to him either.â€
Although city assessorâ€™s records showÂ Â the Pickwick building and land parcel it sits on sold for $1.3 million in June, that amount doesnâ€™t necessarily reflect the true price of the restaurant. Thatâ€™s because other factors were likely involved, including theÂ rights to the business nameÂ and other land parcels, assessed at about $415,000. And, according to Tim Wright, more than $82,000 in state tax liens left on the property were taken care of at closing as part of the purchase price.
Adam and other immediate family members were skeptical Jim actually had the financial backing to buy the restaurant. Jim is a semi-truck driver for Super One.
â€œClaims are one thing, but actual facts are another,
Adam Wisocki said. â€œHe never gave us paperwork to say who they (investors) were.â€
Jim declined to identify his investors but said they were local businessmen.
â€œThey were prepared to give me the full amount, $2.5 million, and I was going to put in $100,000 for working capital and pay them all the net each year until it was paid off, then three more years net for a bonus,â€ Jim said.
Those family skeptics also question Jimâ€™s ability to run a restaurant. While he grew up working at the Pickwick and was a bartender there for a time after serving in the Marines, he hadnâ€™t worked at the restaurant for years.
â€œJust because your last name is Wisocki, doesnâ€™t mean you can run a restaurant,â€ said Adam Wisocki who worked at the restaurant with his brother.
He believes his brother choice of selling to Tim and Amy Wright was the right one.
â€œThey have restaurant experience,â€ he said. â€œTheyâ€™re family people. They love history andÂ are restoring it to its original 1914 look. Itâ€™s just amazing. For them to bring it back and be able to get the capital to be able to do something like that, I believe, is outstanding. Business is business. Youâ€™re going to sell to the one who has the right capital.â€
But his uncle Jim insists he was up to the task and willing to quit his job and give it his all. Â Moreover, he said some family members with more experience would have helped.
So what would he have done if he had purchased the restaurant?
â€œI wouldnâ€™t have done any remodeling because of lack of capital,â€ Jim said, noting that some remodeling had been done several decades and much of the restaurant was antiques.
One of the first things the Wrights did after the sale went through was remove a half wall in the bar which was added about 60 years ago to allow women in the lounge area but keep them away from the bar. The result was opening up the lounge area as it was originally.
Jim said he wouldnâ€™t have touched that wall.
â€œMy grandfather put that up in 1954 to keep the noise on one side of the bar,â€ he said. â€œEven in the 1960s, women werenâ€™t allowed to sit at the bar.â€
He said heâ€™d have kept it, because itâ€™s part of Pickwickâ€™s history.