Traveling electrician opens TJ’s bar to stay closer to kids
GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Five years after becoming business owners, Travis VanSickle and his wife, Jamie, are finally able to enjoy some family time.
Travis and Jamie opened TJ’s Sports Bar in a Grand Forks strip mall after a pool hall there closed in 2008. At the time, Travis was working as an electrician for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which often led him out of town for different assignments. When he wasn’t around for his daughter’s birth on Jan. 14, 2008, he realized he needed to find a different line of work.
“I had a 13-month-old (child) and a newborn, and he was out in South Dakota,” Jamie said. “It was kind of hard on the family life.”
Travis thought opening a business in Grand Forks would allow him more time with his wife and children and help him avoid missing more special moments.
“The pool hall had closed down, and I just went to a lot of my buddies, and I said, ‘If I open this bar, will you support me?’ ” he said. “A lot of them said they’d stand up for me as much as they could.”
After gaining that support, he brought the idea to Jamie, who was concerned a new bar couldn’t make it.
“I was more or less scared of being a little fish in the big sea,” she said.
Although it wasn’t her idea to get into the bar business, she trusted her husband would work hard and make it work.
They took the first letter of each of their names and opened TJ’s Sports Bar on June 1, 2008.
“I had no idea what I was getting into,” Travis said.
He knew he wanted to create a sports bar where people could hang out with friends or watch a game. He put the majority of the pool tables up for sale, added darts, a beer pong table, blackjack tables and big-screen TVs.
Travis said he listened to his regular customers and ran with their suggestions.
“The customers turned it into what it is,” he said. “We’re kind of more of a chill bar. You can come in and have something to eat, but yet you can enjoy music at the same time and play pool.”
Some of the customers call TJ’s “a diamond in the rough,” he said. “I’ve had so many middle-aged customers that live in the area that finally are like, ‘OK, we’re going to give TJ’s a shot,’ and they fall in love with it.”
Although opening the bar allowed Travis to be closer to home, for the first couple of years, he worked 80 hours a week — 40 as an electrician and the other 40 managing the bar.
“It was definitely a struggle both financially and emotionally,” Jamie said.
While Travis worked on building TJ’s, Jamie took on more responsibilities at home. Travis’ parents, who live in Grand Forks, also stepped up to help.
“We were definitely a good team,” Jamie said. “It was definitely progressive.”
At first, Travis went from one job to the next and, eventually, he was able to come home between jobs for dinner.
“It got to the point where he’d come home, eat supper, then go to work when the kids went to bed, so they didn’t even know he was gone,” she said.
After nearly five years of shaping TJ’s into the bar he wanted, Travis finally was able to pull back in February and let his staff take over.
“I’m so happy we made it past the first five years,” Jamie said. “It’s so nice. We have an amazing staff, and he’s very trusting in them.”
For the first time since TJ’s opened, Travis and his family are able to go out of town without worrying about the bar. He always has his phone in his pocket in case of an emergency, but Jamie said the staff can pretty much answer any questions and handle the bar without him.
“I just do the paperwork and the bookkeeping and scheduling,” Travis said. “I’m kind of the HR person and the secretary and the order taker.”
Travis goes in on Sundays to see what they need, but he leaves the majority of the work to his small staff of six.
Now, he’s able to go home after working at Acme Electric in Grand Forks and stay with his family for the entire night.
“(The kids) love it,” Jamie said. “My son, Dawson, is at that age. He’s going into first grade, and he really wants Daddy to play catch and hit the ball with him. And Josie wants to show Daddy her dances and wants Daddy to dance with her.”
Jamie is happy to have more time with her husband, too. “We can actually all be together as a family.”