Have a talk with Joe Minjares
you want a talk to get behind yourself and push, talk Joe Minjares:
an entrepreneur and artiste with grown kids and grandkids, 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
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
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
SSP: The acting and playwriting? How'd that
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
The new Parkway Theater opened with "The
Wendell Baker Story" July 6.