Have a talk with Joe Minjares


Restaurant owner, actor, and now theater impresario

An entrepreneur and artiste with grown kids and grandkids, Joe Minjares keeps on keepin’ on. Lately, he rescued Southside Minneapolis landmark Parkway Theater from demolition. With it, by the way, he plans to make it the state’s first Latino-owned performing arts center.

Minjares mustered out of the Army with little more than the proverbial pot and window and scant prospects. “Things were so bad, I almost stayed in the service,” he recalls. “My buddies in the military were even taking bets that I would re-enlist. They figured there was no way I could financially get out of the Army.” That was 1968 and he made the bookie’s day. Not only did he fool his friends, Minjares has operated the popular eatery Pepito’s for 36 years, cementing a legacy for full-grown children, for their kids and, imaginably, their kids after them. Since 1971, five generations have tended to this family business.

Along the line, Joe also realized a personal dream: theater. He’s done “Point of Revue,” “Speed the Plow,” “Other People’s Money” and much more on stage. In film, “The Truman Show,” “Untamed Heart.” On television, he’s appeared on “NYPD Blue,” “ER” and “Roseanne.” Playwriting credits include “The King of the Kosher Grocers,” which was a hit at Mixed Blood Theatre.

Ultimately, Joe Minjares has the savvy, experience and all-around ability it takes to make a serious go of this new undertaking. Clearly, Bill Irvine, impresario of the Parkway Theater for 20 years, couldn’t’ve handed the reins over to better hands.

Southside Pride: Why’d you buy the Parkway Theater?

Joe Minjares: Ideally, a theater is something I’ve always wanted. This one became available. I did it for a couple reasons. One, as an opportunity to expand Pepito’s and take advantage of my stage and film experience. Plus, it’s cementing the business and tradition or my kids and their kids. This theater is a way to add to what we have. And [further] invest in the community.

SSP: How are you going to use the space?

Minjares: The backbone of Parkway Theater will continue to be cinema, first-run independent features. We’ll also do live theater. One-person shows. Stand-up comedy. Vaudeville. For all intents and purposes, it’s gonna be a performing arts center. We’ve had queries from parties interested in teaching children’s theater. I’m open for everything.

SSP: A lot of Spanish-speaking folk live on Minneapolis’ Southside. You’re Mexican American. Will films reflect that?

Minjares: We’re looking at what’s out there. And I’ve talked with a lot of Latino people. Talked to a lady from La Prensa today. She says readers are looking for American films with Spanish subtitles. My research tells me the same thing. They want to be part of this whole American experience. They are hungry for American films. Which is an advantage, because I know American film. Can you imagine “Citizen Kane” with Spanish subtitles? Or “African Queen”? Why not “Viva Zapata”?

SSP: What about something like “Zoot Suit”?

Minjares: I don’t know that [it] would be as popular with the Latino community as you might think. I mean, that’s a piece of American history that they know nothing about.

SSP: This going to be a learning experience?

Minjares: Yeah. There’s the politics of trying to book a film. Are they gonna book with you first? And, then, can you afford it? When you book a film, [the distributor] asks for certain guarantees. A percentage of the door. With a guarantee. Well, that guarantee can be anywhere from a hundred and fifty dollars to three thousand. [Also] when you’re a new guy, they don’t know anything about you. We had one film we wanted to get and they went, “Nah, we don’t wanna lease it to you.” Well, why not? “Because if we lease it, we want a bigger audience.” Can’t blame them. If you had a play and thought there was a good chance the Tyrone Guthrie Theater would do it, would you wait and see if they take it or take it to Pillsbury House?

SSP: Pepito’s-which is the backbone of this undertaking-how did it get started?
Minjares: I was 24, married. Had just got out of the Army. Four kids. I needed a job. Started working in beer joints and restaurants, washing dishes and cooking on the line. I heard The Colonial Pub & Pizza was for sale and thought, after working for all these other people, they weren’t that much smarter than me. I had confidence I could do it and got into the business.

SSP: There was a bit more to it than that, no?

Minjares: Well, working in restaurants, I was getting promoted up to, like, lead cook. Got into a management training course. Then another. I gained experience from the bottom up. And was smart enough that pieces of the puzzle, the restaurant business, seemed to fit in ways I understood.

SSP: A successful, minority-owned establishment, does it really make a difference?

Minjares: You know, a lot of the bigger restaurants, they would let Latinos work in the back room or busing tables. I thought, no. We’re gonna get them out on the floor. Teach ’em how to serve and make better money. We got a number of Latino servers now.

SSP: The acting and playwriting? How’d that come about?

Minjares: Well, one day Louie Anderson came for lunch. And he said, “Joe, you should try stand-up.” So, I did. As a hobby, in 1980. Friend of mine was out in L.A. and said, “Joe, I’m doin’ what you should be doin’. I got into stand-up comedy school. You should come out here.” So, I did. And immediately started rubbing elbows with all these famous people off the comedy circuit, Robin Williams, Richard Belzer, Paul Rodriguez, Damon Wayans. Damon was a good friend. I came back here. Headlined sometimes. Got to open for people like Jeff Foxworthy, Roseanne Barr, Andrew Dice Clay. So, then, Jack Reuler at Mixed Blood Theatre approached me and said, “You should be doing plays.” So, I did. People saw me there and I started getting movies.

SSP: Anything in general you want to say?

Minjares: Yeah. Not all components are in place right now, for Parkway Theater. We will be doing theater, stand-up, one-person shows. It’s all on the way. And, to older people. Over 40, who never got a chance to fulfill their fantasy. That dream never dies.

The new Parkway Theater opened with “The Wendell Baker Story” July 6.