Joe Radaich, owner of the newly dubbed Sporty’s, says that when customers try his food for the first time, they often comment: “I can’t believe this is so good.”
Based on the appearance of the Sportsman’s Pub and Grille — the bar’s previous incarnation — Radaich admitted customers may have had reason to doubt. Before the recent remodeling, people assumed that the bar and restaurant’s appearance from the outside reflected the quality and environment inside. When Radaich became owner of the building two years ago, he decided the time had come to make changes that might remove such misconceptions.
Sporty’s Pub and Grill
2124 Como Ave. S.
Hours: 11 a.m.–2 a.m., 7 days a week
Full menu available: 11 a.m.–10 p.m.
Breakfast Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m.–4 p.m.
Bar food available all night
“I appreciate the social aspect of the tavern business,” he says. “But it was a shame that Sporty’s was not being recognized for the great food and friendly environment it had to offer.”
For the renovations that began in February — bolstered by a $5,000 façade improvement grant from Southeast Como Improvement Association — Radaich tore away the solid walls to reveal the original molding, high ceilings, maple floors, and wall-to-wall windows — the way the building used to look before someone decided to box it up in the 1970s.
“We knew that all this was there,” Radaich notes, gesturing at the framing around the windows. “It was just a matter of taking the initiative to bring it back.”
Between two light-filled rooms with tables and booths is the original bar, which, according to Radaich, is still exactly the same as it was before Sportsman’s became Sporty’s. The intent in renovating was not to rob anyone of their regular hangout, but to spark the curiosity of customers who might have otherwise been intimidated by the bar’s external appearance.
“We’re trying to change and expand business without driving regulars away,” he said. “Even though we’ve made major renovations in the dining areas and outside, the bar has remained a traditional part of Sporty’s.”
Radaich said that the changes are as much about improving safety as they are about attracting new faces.
“Replacing the solid wall with windows is an important step towards public safety on this corner,” he said. “It is in alliance with SECIA’s ‘Eyes on the Street’ efforts. Nothing happens out there that we don’t see.”
SECIA Board Member Connie Sullivan agreed, applauding the new windows for their aesthetic, which harkens back to storefronts of the past. “He’s got all these lovely windows now, great big glass things that resonate with what the stores looked like. We’re just thrilled, because open windows are the kind of thing that you find with … any nice café.”
Part of the renovation project was also to expand the menu — as well as business hours — in order to satisfy the needs of a greater variety of hungry customers. New additions to the menu range from the kind of indulgent dishes one would expect from a pub (i.e. Chili dubbed ‘Not-for-Sissies’) to more health-conscious food, such as veggie burgers and salads.
“So many people are thinking differently about food these days,” said Radaich. “We are really trying to think outside the burger/ fries mentality and offer a wide variety of interesting items.”
The new Sporty’s also offers a long list of sandwiches, including a turkey artichoke sandwich, a Cajun Tilapia sandwich, a wall-eye sandwich for fish lovers, and a porketta sandwich (fennel-roasted pork), which represents a food Radaich remembers from his childhood growing up in Northern Minnesota.
Since the renovations, Sporty’s has enjoyed an increase in food sales of 50 percent, according to Radaich, and a new customer base that has expanded to include families, local business workers and college students alike. There’s karaoke on the weekends and Wednesday trivia nights will be coming soon. Expanded hours include breakfast in the morning and dinner as late as 1:30 a.m.
“It is my hope that the new look, hours and food service will allow the business to continue to grow as an amenity that serves the entire neighborhood.” Radaich said.