SMALL BUSINESS – Food for thought – Sheboygan's Jake's Cafe is a creative center for right-brained business owners

Posted on Jan 1, 2012 :: Small Business Spotlight
Sharon Verbeten
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

A few people have walked into Jake’s Café in Sheboygan wondering where’s the beef? … or the fries, for that matter.

Rather than offering diner delights, Jake’s Café serves up a community of creative thinkers ready to collaborate with clients’ diverse needs.

“It’s interesting when you take a problem … and present it to a community of people who can collaborate in unique ways to solve a problem,” says Tryg Jacobson, president of Jake’s Café, A Creative Community.

“Because we have such a variety of talent, I might be able to draw from the expertise of a copy writer, a filmmaker, a brand consultant and perhaps leverage the relationships that some of the other people in the café have with other members of the community.”

Jacobson – former owner of Jacobson Rost Advertising in Sheboygan – opened Jake’s Cafe (named for his late father Frank “Jake” Jacobson) in 2010 as a collaborative work environment for right-brained thinkers.

Composed of four historic buildings, the venue is home to inventors, writers and graphic designers as well as filmmakers, photographers and financial planners.

“We’re now up to 23 businesses (80 percent capacity) in just 1 1/2 years,” says Jacobson. The cafe is totally debt-free and profitable. “I knew for this concept to work, it was really going to be revolutionary,” he adds.


A visionary history

Jacobson says he was greatly inspired by his father, the “creative visionary” who started Jacobson Rost in 1957.

While advertising wasn’t the younger Jacobson’s first career choice (he majored in economics and later started his own textile business), he joined the firm in 1981 and helped build the company into a multi-million-dollar business, serving blue-chip companies such as The Kohler Company and Sargento Foods.

But soon after he sold out in 2009, the new owners relocated the business, leaving Jacobson with 20,000 square feet of space to repurpose.

Rather than compete with commercial developers, Jacobson decided, “if you can’t be first in a category, you create a category you can be first in.

“If I could pull enough right-brained thinkers together … I might be able to develop a destination that businesses all over Wisconsin could rely on to solve problems in a collaborative, interdisciplinary fashion.”

Jake’s Café itself is a conglomeration of four historic buildings, all incorporating very different – yet seemingly cohesive – styles. The white brick Federal-style building on site dates to the end of the 19th century; a large Greek Revival Baptist church was relocated to the site; a Carpenter Gothic parish house was moved from a nearby Lutheran parish; and a French Provincial house was always on site.

The buildings, now conjoined, house 65 offices, six conference rooms, three kitchens, a sound studio, two theaters and a reception area.

Bringing success to Sheboygan

One of the theaters houses Leclerc Brothers Motion Pictures, a team of brothers that has created national award-winning commercials and has produced films all from their offices in Jake’s Café.

Philip Leclerc, co-owner/director of Leclerc Brothers Motion Pictures with his brother, Chris, says, “We simply don’t need to go to Chicago, New York or Los Angeles to find the talent we need for new projects; most of what we need is right here.”

The tenants of Jake’s Café all own their own businesses; they lease space and have access to all the facility’s full-service offerings. Jacobson fosters a collaborative – rather than competitive – workplace. “At the onset, I knew that if we were going to make a creative community, that we had to make members feel secure,” he says. “We’ve really protected the disciplines or categories of those moving in.

“It’s not so much competing; it’s complementing,” he adds. “Our creativity goes far beyond what you would find in an advertising agency.”

But what about that perplexing name – the one that, sometimes weekly, has passersby stopping in for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie? Jacobson isn’t worried about that. He figures it’s never bad to bring people in through the front door. Besides, he says, his vision of “repackaging the Sheboygan business community” really is a café.

“In essence, it’s kind of a gathering place. You want to set yourself apart; you don’t want to blend in.”