PIQUA — Longtime businessman and restauranter John R. Irmscher is making his way to Piqua with the restaurant JT’s Brew & Grill in tow — but he needs other investors to make it happen.
Irmscher currently has a purchasing contract for the former Fifth Third building, Nationwide building, and Fifth Third parking lot, each located downtown on the block of Ash Street between Spring and North Main streets.
The plan is bring JT’s Brew and Grill to the corner of Ash and Spring streets. From there, they would demolish the old Nationwide building for a private parking area and improve the Fifth Third building for another business to lease or buy. The private parking would be for the Fifth Third building as well as serve as additional parking for JT’s Brew & Grill on weekends.
A lifetime in food service
Irmscher has over 50 years of experience in the food industry, beginning at the age of 13 as a carhop at the small ice cream and sandwich shop Humpty Dumpty in Fort Wayne, Ind., after his father passed away.
“I was an orphan. I lived alone for six months,” Irmscher, now 74, said. He explained that a couple took him in, but he needed to pay room and board.
While at Humpty Dumpty, Irmscher convinced the owner to expand, thus helping develop Happy Humpty. From Happy Humpty, Irmscher’s experience in small markets in the food industry grew with the Lucky Steer Steakhouse, Golden Surrey Ice Cream Parlors, and Happy Humpty Drive-Ins in areas such as Decatur, Waynedale, and Portland in Indiana, and Defiance, Van Wert, and St. Mary’s in Ohio.
In 1965, Irmscher and another former Happy Humpty manager, Ed McGillvary, founded the Empire Family Restaurant. Empire became a chain over the next 22 years, expanding to 10 locations in western Ohio — including Piqua, Troy, Sidney, Urbana, and others — and employing over 750 people. Irmscher and McGillvary also managed four other restaurants for Dinner Bell Foods.
In connection with this, Irmscher and McGillvery owned and operated a federally inspected food processing plant. Irmscher explained that Empire Food Processing manufactured fresh soups, salads, and meat entrees for delivery to the Empire Restaurants as well as other food businesses like Bob Evans, Cysco, and Kraft Foods. Irmscher and McGillvary later sold their processing plant to L.J. Minors, a division of Nestle Foods. They also sold Empire Restaurants around that same time.
From there, Irmscher became president of Irmscher Development. He developed the Celina area off Havemann Road, including Aldi, the Mercer Savings Bank branch and main office, and the Holiday Inn Express, of which he was a partner. In addition, Irmscher and his partners developed a 370-acre golf and housing project in Celina called Eaglebrooke Estates.
Irmscher explained that he also helped bring Marshall’s to Celina — first beginning discussions in 2012 until they came to Celina in 2015 — although he did not personally profit from the move as Marshall’s did not purchase property from Irmscher Development, opting for a location across from them.
Currently, Irmscher operates CJ’s Highmarks restaurant in Celina and JT’s Brew & Grill in St. Mary’s and Greenville with his son, John T. “JT” Irmscher. Irmscher’s other son, Doug, is the market director for Florida for the commercial real estate company JLL.
Seeking other investors
Irmscher explained that opening the first Empire location in Celina in 1965 cost a total of $99,000 with a monthly loan payment of $700. Today, replacing it with a new building would cost $1.6 million with a monthly payment of $11,000.
“This is what happens to businesses,” Irmscher said. He explained that these high costs of creating a new restaurant make it difficult for an independent businessperson to afford, which is what draws him to the idea of private placement for expanding JT’s Brew & Grill.
“When you pull together, you can make things happen,” Irmscher said.
Irmscher is seeking other investors to join him on this venture. He explained that potential investors must be an Ohio resident and an “accredited investor” pursuant to Federal Securities regulations. An accredited investor has a net worth of $1 million or more, not including the investor’s primary residence. An accredited investor can also have an individual annual income of more than $200,000; a joint annual income with spouse of over $300,000; and is an entity with total assets in excess of $5 million. A limited number of non-accredited investors can also be admitted.
The minimum investment is $20,000 and the maximum investment allowed is $200,000. The benefits include no mortgage or other debt, investors own equipment and real estate, there is no personal liability, there is a return of 10 percent per annum on investment, and any surplus cash flow is split 60 percent to investors and 40 percent to the manager.
JT’s Brew & Grill will feature approximately 200 seats. There will be eight to 10 televisions in the bar area, which will be separate from the family dining area. There will also be a small banquet room for around 60 people.
“We maxed it at 60 because of the large Fort (Piqua) Plaza banquet and you got the country club with a large banquet, so we didn’t feel a large banquet was a value,” Irmscher said.
There will also be other sitting areas with sliding doors for smaller groups of 25-30 people and a patio area outside with glass garage doors and a heater. The features of the patio area will give it a longer season of use to help keep customers comfortable.
In warmer seasons, JT’s Brew & Grill will also have entertainment on the patio. They will also have a breakfast buffet on Sundays, serving lunch and dinner every day.
Irmscher hopes to have an investor group together by November. If that happens, construction for JT’s Brew & Grill will begin in the spring and the restaurant will open in the fall of next year.
Picking Piqua did not happen by chance for Irmscher.
Irmscher said that the plan was to stay within approximately 90 miles of Celina and while comparing Piqua to other cities, Piqua had a number of amenities that would draw people to it.
“As we started looking at communities from our past experience — we’ve been in Piqua before — and if I compare, from a restaurant standpoint, Piqua and Troy, you’re underserved in what we call the sports bar casual dining. You have plenty of fast food. Troy is overloaded with restaurants,” Irmscher said, citing Applebee’s, Longhorn, and more.
Irmscher pointed out that Piqua is still close between Troy and Sidney and also has a movie theater, so when people are in town for sporting events or a movie, they will likely eat in town. Edison State Community College is another factor Irmscher pointed out that draws people to Piqua.
“We felt that between the two markets on each side that you had a void,” Irmscher said. “The other thing that got my attention was seeing the city is a little more aggressive trying to make some things happen,” he said.
Irmscher explained that he was also drawn to the possibility of power generation plants within Piqua, such as the city considering utilizing the old Piqua Power Plant as a possible source for energy generation, specifically as a natural gas energy generation plant. There is also a possibility of the city being chosen to host a solar power generation plant.
“You will become more competitive on utility rates, which will attract manufacturing,” Irmscher said. “And you have manufacturing land.”
Irmscher also brought up Piqua’s past with the idea of people being excited about their communities to help keep it growing.
“In Piqua’s early history, there were some shakers and movers that made things happen, and life happens, they pass away,” Irmscher said. “When they’re not replaced, your community will go backwards in population. Your population shrinks.”
Irmscher then used a metaphor, describing how he saw new generations improving their area.
“An old farmer my age, he paints his house to fix it up. The next generation came along, they remodeled. Today, they bulldozed it down and built a new one,” Irmscher said. “So there’s a different philosophy and as times change, you have to change with the times.”
Find out more
For more information or to set up a meeting, contact Karen Reithman via email at [email protected] or at (419) 628-7544. John R. Irmscher can also be contacted at [email protected] or at (419) 305-4122 between the hours of 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. For information on CJ’s Highmarks or JT’s Brew & Grill, such as their menus, visit www.cjhighmark.com or www.jtbrewandgrill.com.
Reach Sam Wildow at (937) 451-3336