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Wednesday April 23rd 2014

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Facelift for Hopjacks

Downtown Favorite Gets Renovated
By Lewis Stockham

If you love great food and drink, then you’ve probably been to Hopjacks Pizza Kitchen & Taproom. There is always a great crowd of people there, and it’s a nice atmosphere for families to chow down on some delicious food. Plus, it’s a popular place with the workday lunch crowd as well as the weekend crowd. There is quite a selection of drinks—Whether you’re into liquor or beer, you’ll find something to enjoy.

Lately, you might have noticed that Hopjacks is getting a bit of a facelift. I had the chance to talk with owner Joe Abston and general manager Jarod Kelly about the renovations and why they made them, and also why they love what they do.
Hopjacks opened on Jan. 13, 2008. Renovations started about eight weeks ago and finished recently.

“We have been fortunate to have the success we have had,” Abston said.   Changes have been made to the bathrooms, the floors, the beer selection and menu.

The bathrooms have been completely redone. Both the men’s and women’s bathrooms were increased in size by 100 percent. The men’s room went from one standup and one sit-down facility to three standup and two sit-down facilities. The women’s room went from two very small sit-down facilities to four full-size sit-down facilities. Purse hooks and full-length vanity mirrors were added, too.

“We want to make sure the women are happy.  If the women are happy the men are happy,” Kelly explained with a smile.

Diaper-changing stations were installed in both the women’s and men’s rooms.  For Abston and Kelly, it’s nice to have that convenience in the bathrooms. “Men are much more involved in a child’s upbringing than before,” Kelly said.

High flow, hands-free toilets and hand dryers were installed to cut down on their carbon footprint.

The floor in Hopjacks has also been made level. When they first took over the building, they made two buildings into one, and there was not a consistent floor level. In the front, there was a small ramp. In the back there was a step to get from
one side to the other. “We got rid of the trip hazards and unified the floor system,” Abston explained. A brand new wooden floor was then laid down.

Hopjacks also expanded their beer selection. “We added 47 new beers—We now have 110,” Abston said. Also important was having the place and availability to pour the great beer that is out there. These days there is such a movement in craft beer, locally and internationally. “We don’t want to have to sacrifice a great beer to have a great beer,” Abston explained.

Hopjacks now offers some one-off specialty barrels. Dogfish, for example, is only produced in double-digit numbers. Others, such as Lagunitus, Delirium Tremens and Old Rasputin were added, too. “We diversified with the expansion. We got every beer classification you can get your hands on,” Kelly exclaimed.

Rogue Chipotle, a spicy beer made with chipotle peppers, five different flavors of cider and everything in between is available.

“We’re still missing mead, but we are looking for one,” Abston added.

Updates to the Hopjacks menu were made two weeks before the renovations began. “We left our standards on the menu, like the Belgian fries and the brie dip,” Abston said. They have added four new pizzas, two new styles of wings (chipotle and honey bar-b-que) and jalapeno popper dip. Also, they added a breakfast pizza, which is made with green onions and cooked with eggs in the oven. The kitchen never closes before 2 a.m.

I asked Abston and Kelly what they love most about running Hopjacks, and I got two different answers. Abston said it was the best job he has ever had. “What’s cool is we get to come in and figure out what we want to do and do it,” he said.

The two do not have some huge corporate chain of command. If Kelly has an idea, he bounces it off Abston and vice versa. Everybody works as a team, so it’s far less bureaucratic and cumbersome to make changes. One of Abston’s favorite breweries, Rogue, has a saying: “Ready, aim, fire.” “In other words, we have a good idea, we get it off the ground, and figure out how to make it work,” Abston explained.

A perfect example is Hopjacks’ Second Annual Beer Dinner on June 13, which consisted of six courses of specialty beer made exclusively for the event put in special 10-gallon kegs called Firkins. Don’t fret if you missed it. “We will be doing Firkin Fridays occasionally, once a month depending on availability,” Abston said.

For Kelly, what he loves most is the staff. “What is the key to Hopjacks, no joke, it is the staff,” Kelly explained. The majority of the staff has been here for 12 months or since they opened. “Great people, respectful and responsible,” Kelly told me. The staff is given the freedom to make their own decisions, and 19 times out of 20 it’s the right one.  They constantly keep Abston and Kelly on their toes. “We have a barn-door policy—It is wide open for staff to make suggestions and offer input,” Kelly explained.

Kelly and Abston also love the community spirit in downtown Pensacola. “The media, especially the IN, notices what is going on,” Abston said. Kelly further explained, “Everybody has the same goal: to make downtown a destination and maintain a small-business focus.”

Hopjacks Pizza Kitchen and Taproom
10 S. Palafox
497-6076
hopjacks.com
11 a.m.-3 a.m. Monday-Sunday