Former brothel became U fixture

Robin Huiras

If walls could talk, a century’s worth of conversation at Stub & Herb’s Eating and Drinking Emporium would drown the sounds of an average evening’s patrons.
But the building, which turns 100 this year, hasn’t had to worry about its popularity over the years. The various athletic photos and memorabilia lining the local pub’s rustic walls are as storied as the history of the building itself.
Located on Oak Street and Washington Avenue, Stub & Herb’s received its name in 1939 after brothers Stub and Herb Lewis purchased the building. What has since been a popular bar and restaurant in the University community was preceded by a speak-easy and a brothel during the Prohibition years.
Bob Olson, a customer of Stub & Herb’s for 25 years, said the biggest change the bar has seen is expansion. In 1975 a remodeling doubled the bar’s size to change a lunch-style counter bar with booths draped in red and white checkered cloth to its current brass and wood design hidden behind etched frosted windows.
Herb Lewis and his wife Norma ran the business through the postwar ’40s, the family-focused ’50s and halfway through the liberating ’60s.
John Jeffers, whose daughter Susan Jeffers now owns the bar, frequented Stub & Herb’s in the ’50s while attending the University. He made it clear to Lewis if he were ever to sell the bar, to consider Jeffers. In 1965 the decision was made, and the life of the former Mankato family changed forever.
“My father sat us down at our first and only family meeting,” recalled Susan Jeffers. “He told us it was his lifelong dream to own that bar, so we sold everything we had and moved to Minneapolis.”
The Jeffers family secured a 37-year lease on the building. The lease ensured the saloon would remain in the Jeffers family. Susan Jeffers took the reins after her parents’ deaths in 1979.
“I remember going to the bank after they had revoked my parents’ initial loan,” Jeffers said. “I was told, ‘Sue, you’re 22 years old; you’re never going to make it.’ I looked right back at him and said, ‘You watch me.'”
After six months of repeated attempts to secure a loan, Jeffers found success with another bank and could pay for the damages a fire had caused.
Since that day in 1979, Jeffers has doubled sales at the bar, remodeled the basement and bought her three siblings’ shares for complete ownership.
A long University tradition helped shape the emporium. Currently adorned with photos of ageless athletes, megaphones from the days of long-skirted cheerleaders and rows of timeworn books, the bar whispers golden memories.
“The photos are usually given by the person photographed,” Jeffers said. “I’ve got stacks at home, some dating back to the 1800s.”
The old-time environment at Stub & Herb’s draws the customers back, said Olson, a 1974 University graduate. People come back in their 70s and 80s and point out pictures of themselves from their college days.
The athletes coming back know that this is their place, said Tom Chorzempa, manager of Stub & Herb’s. It was theirs when they went to the University and they return to remember that feeling.
They graduate and move, but something always draws them back, Jeffers added.
The staff and customers resemble a tight-knit family, Olson said.
“I think a lot of people prefer, as I do, a family-run business over a big chain,” Olson said. “I live in St. Paul, but drive to Sturb’s for that reason.”
It is this family atmosphere that has rescued the bar from hardship several times, Jeffers said. From the days when crates were needed to avoid wading through a flooded basement, to a youthful owner learning accounting and a more recent close call with demolition in 1995, the emporium has endured.
“One thing I’ve learned is that people are basically good. They don’t change, they just want different things,” Jeffers said.