New sports bar peps up Como Avenue


It’s probably just as well that Joe Isaacson and Bill Marquardt underestimated what it would take to open their shiny new sports bar and eatery at 2554 Como Ave. Had they known all the work and worry that Station 280 on Como would entail, they might never have undertaken the project in the first place.

Said Marquardt, “I guess we were a little naïve.”

For example, the U.S. Small Business Administration turned down their application for a start-up loan, unswayed by the fact that the two newcomers to the restaurant business had retained an industry veteran to guide them.

That meant the money had to come out of their own pockets. Then, gutting and completely re-equipping the property took nearly twice as long as planned, pushing the grand opening into the doldrums of the current winter.

“We missed the Twins in the playoffs and all of Gopher football,” noted Marquardt. “January is traditionally the slowest month in the restaurant trade, but even so, business has been building steadily without much promotion. College students are a core clientele for us, and more and more working people and families from the area are coming in. People say they love the food.”

Added Isaacson, “If there’s an upside to starting a business during a recession, it’s the fact that contractors are willing to work for less.”

Nobody could work cheaper than the two owners, contractors themselves who head up Joe Isaacson Tile and Marquardt Electric Co. They and others have created a sports bar with a clean, bright look. Those who know the property’s history say it’s a pleasant change from what was there before.

Marquardt and Isaacson signed the lease in April 2009 and started from scratch with a top-to-bottom make-  over, including a completely new electrical system, new restrooms and new kitchen facilities.

“We knew how to do all that stuff, but we didn’t have a clue on how to get a bar and restaurant up and running,” said Isaacson. They turned to Mike Traynor, a long-time restaurant consultant, who helped them negotiate contracts with suppliers, hire and train employees – there’s now a staff of 40, including two full-time managers – and develop a full-service menu.

“For some reason, everyone wants to own a restaurant,” said Traynor, “more often than not with no idea of all the ins and outs involved. The main cost centers are labor, food and liquor, and it’s easy to lose money on all three.”

 “With Station 280 on Como, there have been a few glitches because it takes time to get everybody on the same page, but generally speaking, things are going very well,” added Traynor, who continues to work with Isaacson and Marquardt. “And, it’s an absolutely beautiful facility.”

The two owners credited city of St. Paul officials with making the licensing process as painless as possible. They also presented their plans to the St. Anthony Park/ District 12 Community Council, which raised no objections.

Isaacson and Marquardt have a lot of plans. In addition to lunch and dinner, Station 280 soon will be open for breakfast on weekends. They also hope to have a DJ on Thursday nights and live music on Saturday nights.

There’s talk, too, of installing a patio or deck. Also, with a parking lot capable of accommodating several hundred cars, the owners would like to run a shuttle bus to U of M football games.

During a tour of their new sports bar on a recent evening, Marquardt confided that Isaacson had to talk him into joining the venture. “Joe said we could do better than others had done with this location, and I think we’ve made a good start,” he said.

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Station 280 on Como is in space formerly occupied by the American Sports Café, which went out of business in 2008 after the owners let their liquor liability insurance and city licenses lapse.

Originally, the building at 2554 Como was owned by the Oliver Farm Equipment Co. in the 1930s. In the mid-1970s, All-American Bar & Bowling moved into a portion of the facility, replaced a decade later by Gatsby’s Sports Grill.

By the late 1990s, the American Sports Café had taken over, with the Warehouse Nightclub next door sharing the same address. The nightclub was regarded as a problem property by St. Paul police, who responded to numerous calls there. That space is now vacant, and the Station 280 on Como lease has a noncompetition clause that precludes another liquor-related business from coming in.