restaurant career

Business Degree Boosted These Tommie Restaurateurs

In honor of Mpls.St.Paul Magazine Restaurant Week, the Newsroom talked to some Opus College of Business alumni who have put their skills into practice by opening their own restaurants. Here’s what these Tommies had to say about their time at St. Thomas, their restaurant career and what makes their businesses unique.

Able Seedhouse + Brewery (Minneapolis) – John Mowery ’13 MBA (co-founder) 

able seedhouse

John Mowery ’13 MBA

Q: How did your Opus College of Business education help your restaurant career? 

A: Able started as an idea by fellow University of St. Thomas alumnus, Casey Holley, while I was in the middle of my MBA program at the Opus College of Business. I took New Venture Finance with Dr. Jay Ebben and was then part of the Aristotle Fund with Dr. Mary Daugherty. Those classes gave me the skills and knowledge I needed to raise the money needed to start Able.  

Q: Could you tell us a little about Able Seedhouse + Brewery? What makes it unique? 

A: Able is a craft brewer located in Northeast Minneapolis. We work with Minnesota grain farmers to supply us raw materials. We then malt that grain in our brewery and use it in our specialty release beers. Able is one of only a handful of breweries around the country malting grain.  

Brunson’s Pub (St. Paul) – Molly Murphy LaFleche ’06 (co-owner) 

Q: How did your Opus College of Business education help your restaurant career? 

Molly Murphy LaFleche

Molly Murphy LaFleche ’06

A: I have utilized my degree in business administration with a concentration in finance in more ways than one – in addition to working as a financial adviser, the lessons I learned at St. Thomas have allowed me to achieve my dream of opening a restaurant as well. In both careers, I emphasize the importance of the community at St. Thomas and how it sets students up to succeed. St. Thomas does a good job of teaching you that a lot of your success happens around relationships. 

Q: Could you tell us a little about Brunson’s Pub? What makes it unique? 

A: It really is a labor of love. While I was earning my business degree, my husband, Thomas LaFleche, focused on gaining management experience within the restaurant industry. We spent a total of 15 years planning before opening Brunson’s Pub, researching everything from the types of glasses that were most comfortable to drink from to the songs that would be on the playlists for different times of the day. This work paid off when Brunson’s Pub opened two years ago. 

We aim to create an atmosphere that is a welcoming place for everyone – at any given time, you can walk into Brunson’s Pub and see a wide age range of customers, from those in their 20s to those in their 70s. The meaning of "pub" is "public house," and that means "open to all." A few highlights from the menu at Brunson’s Pub include the chips and house-made dip, the chicken thighs and the pulled bacon. Both the food and the family of employees are what provide a great experience for customers. 

The Bulldog Tap (Fargo, North Dakota), Red Hen Taphouse (Dilworth, Minnesota), Cowboy Jack’s (Fargo) – Dave Erickson ‘07 (president)  

bulldog tap

Dave Erickson ‘07

Q: How did your Opus College of Business education help your restaurant career? 

A: The Opus College of Business helped me learn and develop the business skills (marketing, finance, accounting, management, etc.) needed to create and operate a business in any industry. Having this strong foundation allows me to focus our time and resources on our core business: hospitality.  

Q: Could you tell us a little about your restaurants? What makes them unique? 

A: I own and operate sports bars in both Minnesota and North Dakota. Some are independent and another is a franchise. Every environment is unique and offers different challenges. All, however, focus on being fun atmospheres with good drinks, great food and excellent service. It's fun to make people smile!  

The Buzz Coffee & Café (Burnsville and Plymouth, Minnesota) – Jasmine Branum ’14 (co-owner) 

Q: How did your Opus College of Business education help your restaurant career? 

A: Opus College of Business gave me a well-rounded business education that I use in my everyday life at The Buzz Coffee and Café. I majored in

the buzz coffee and cafe

Jasmine Branum ’14

business administration with an emphasis in marketing. Throughout my college experience I worked as a lead research assistant in the Marketing Research Lab at the University of St. Thomas Minneapolis campus, where I focused my energies on consumer behavior.

I credit this opportunity for helping make my little café’s profits grow by giving me the fundamental knowledge of how to analyze consumers’ buying behaviors. The business program through the University of St. Thomas ensured that when I graduated I was able to utilize many business skills, including the basic accounting, management and social media promotional skills that are needed for a business to succeed. Owning a business requires passion and drive, but it also requires the knowledge of many different business disciplines. Thanks to my education at Opus College of Business, I feel confident in my business knowledge and know that The Buzz Coffee and Café will be a sustainable business for many years to come. 

Q: Could you tell us a little about The Buzz? What makes it unique? 

A: I love my business! I could talk about what makes it unique all day. My dad and I began our business venture together on March 24, 2016, in Burnsville. The Buzz Coffee & Café focuses on using fresh ingredients and when available, we prefer to work with local vendors. In addition to offering sandwiches, paninis and salads, we offer over 200 waffle options that are available in traditional, gluten-free and vegan mixes. In 2018 we began selling our waffle mixes in retail packages that are available in store and online! We like to support local coffee roasters as well as renowned roasters from around the United States. We just opened our second location in Plymouth, and we cannot wait to see where this journey takes us! 

Dan Kelly’s Pub (Minneapolis), Devil’s Advocate (Minneapolis), Erik the Red Nordic BBQ & Barbarian Bar (Minneapolis) – Erik Forsberg ’98 (proprietor) 

Q: How did your Opus College of Business education help your restaurant career? 

A: I give St. Thomas’ business school quite a bit of good marks. I was an entrepreneurship major; the program as a whole was helpful in not only teaching students how to work for others, but how to work for themselves as well.  

The importance of learning strategic planning and the benefits of being taught the many facets of business individually before ultimately learning how to use them together taught me everything I needed to know. 

Q: Could you tell us a little about your restaurants? What makes them unique? 

A: Each of my three restaurants has its own unique flair. Erik the Red is a Nordic barbecue restaurant known for craft beers and cocktails. The restaurant has been operating for three years and frequently hosts large events due to its location across the street from U.S. Bank Stadium. Dan Kelly’s Pub is everything you could want from an Irish pub. There is a distinct American grit to the restaurant as well. The recently reopened Devil’s Advocate features a menu which has vegan and vegetarian options as a forethought, not an afterthought. The restaurant serves fresh pasta and artisanal pizzas with gluten free options, grows its own grains and greens, and partners with a company called Naked Beef to source the beef for the dishes. 

Los Ocampo Mexican Restaurant & Bar (Multiple locations) – Julian Ocampo ‘16, ‘18 MBA (co-owner, office manager) 

restaurant career

Julian Ocampo ‘16, ‘18 MBA

Q: How did your Opus College of Business education help your career in the restaurant business? 

A: My education from Opus College of Business helped my family restaurant by connecting me with people that I would have never met. A lot of the articles and cases that we had to read on bigger companies are the main things that help me. The discussion that we had after reading them also helped because I was able to see a variety of viewpoints. Coming from a different background compared to my colleagues, I could use their input to benefit my position in our family restaurant. 

Q: Could you tell us a little about Los Ocampo Mexican Restaurant and Bar? What makes it unique? 

A: Our very first restaurant was opened in 2003 on Lake Street in Minneapolis. That had a different name, Taqueria Los Ocampo. Now we have seven locations, and I’m working on another one this year. What makes our restaurants unique is our big menu that allows customers to mix and match. We have over 20 dishes to choose from and more than 30 meat and veggie options. You will see the difference if you go to another Mexican restaurant on Lake Street or anywhere else. Every restaurant has different meats it sells because it specializes in them, but with us, we want to offer our customers everything they are used to from their hometowns. The other main thing that catapulted us back in 2003 is our ability to use ground corn and make it into corn dough called masa. With masa we were able to make sopes, huaraches, huarachazos, corn quesadillas, tlacoyos and gorditas. All of those homemade specialties were able to be filled with your choice of meat or veggie option. We also have three homemade salsas that are fresh every day and add to the flavor of the masa and the meat. 

McCormick’s Pub & Restaurant (Wayzata, Minnesota) – Tim McCormick ’99 MBA (owner) 

mccormick's pub

Tim McCormick ’99 MBA

Q: How did your Opus College of Business education help your career in the restaurant business? 

A: In a broad sense, my education at the Opus College of Business set the foundation for further discovery, ultimately leading to business ownership in hospitality. At St. Thomas, I learned the language of business, which in itself was empowering. In addition, faculty inspired me to reach higher, do better and aspire to make a positive difference in the community. Many faculty members served as role models; people I hoped to emulate because of their business acumen and their responsible and ethical community-minded leadership.  

Q: Could you tell us a little about McCormick's? What makes it unique?   

A: McCormick's is a very personal expression of our brand of hospitality. We prepare everything in-house from scratch ... sauces, dressings, soups, desserts, etc. We source the best possible ingredients and take pride in the quality and wholesomeness of our food. In addition, we have a rotating, seasonal beer, wine and spirits program along with a large selection of the Irish whiskeys ... and we take pride in our expertly poured creamy pints of Guinness!   

Union 32 Craft House (Eagan, Minnesota) – Mark Zesbaugh ’86 (co-owner) 

Mark Zesbaugh ’86 received his undergraduate degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting and has been serving on the St. Thomas Board of Trustees since 2002. Zesbaugh was also the 2018 recipient of the Monsignor James Lavin Award, recognizing outstanding contributions and service to the University of St. Thomas Alumni Association. 

Q: Could you tell us a little about Union 32 Craft House? What makes it unique?  

union 32 craft house

Mark Zesbaugh ’86

A: I don’t believe there is really one thing the makes Union 32 Craft House unique, rather it is a combination of the following: 

  • A great urban vibe (atmosphere) where friends, family and colleagues can get together and enjoy great Minnesota-only brewed craft beer (or a mix of other specially crafted libations) and great food while engaging in conversation, listening to music or taking in their favorite sporting event on TV. 
  • A self-service tap wall (pour your own beer) offering 32 diverse and constantly changing Minnesota craft beers, including six beer taps dedicated to Union 32 Craft House beers brewed on-site. (There are over 110 breweries in the state of Minnesota and Union 32 Craft House is constantly changing its beer selection to allow patrons the opportunity sample the best of what Minnesota has to offer in craft beers.) 
  • An outstanding service experience where dedicated Union 32 employees are there to ensure you have what you need to enjoy the evening.

Below is a list of even more restaurants owned by Opus College of Business Alumni. Read the full list of Tommie-owned restaurants.