There was a time when Jenny Wall thought practically about being a prison counselor, which is why she obtained an associate degree in human services.
But, a decent salary and retirement benefits aside, she pushed away practical and went for the dream. Wall, 38, who has owned and operated J Dubs Pizzas and Subs of Alexander for more than a dozen years, just opened Liberty’s Liquor Cabinet in October of this year, and added fish fries to her menu as of Friday (Dec. 3).
“For the most part, I really liked running a kitchen, and I took a chance,” the Alexander native said during an interview Thursday. “It’s a lot harder than people think. It’s a lot of hours and a lot of sacrifice, but you do make some great relationships in the community. You’re so grateful that you have to do what you can, you’ve just got to keep on keeping on.”
A big part of Wall’s expansion has included the purchase of a building three years ago to house both of her business ventures at 10594 Main St., Alexander. A former appliance store, it took some renovations to make the place restaurant-worthy: a “nice big kitchen” and dining room expansion to accommodate 30 people.
The pizzeria had formerly been across the street, but a talk with her dad, doing some research, and an entrepreneurial vision prompted Wall to buy the much larger site and move in with room to grow. Two years later another renovation paved the way for the liquor store. The property also contains three apartments and another woman-owned business of a beauty salon. A 12-space back parking lot was added in the last three years.
Opening a pizzeria wasn’t a random move, Wall said, as she had worked in the pizza industry for about seven years until the last shop she was at closed. The question of working for someone else or going out on her own wasn’t an easy one, she said.
“I kind of knew what I was doing; I had been doing every aspect of the business,” she said. “I hemmed and hawed for a week, and then I asked the landlord if I could rent the space. It was super scary.”
J Dubs moved into a spot that had been occupied by six pizzerias, all of which had closed in a 10-year span. Wall had a strategy of not using frozen dough; only freshly made from scratch and the same for the sauce.
“I use really good products. I’ve kind of built a reputation that if you leave my place hungry, something’s wrong. A lot of customers have turned into family.”
The liquor store seemed like a natural fit, she said, and adding fish fries — using fresh haddock and a genuine “light and crunchy” beer batter — will run through Lent. She wanted all three components to be in the same central location.
Wall’s workweek is upwards of 60 hours, which leaves precious time for her to spend with husband Craig Romesser and their 7-year-old daughter Scarlett. Wall credits her family, her husband’s help for much of the renovation work, and her employees for their ongoing support, even when she took a six-week hiatus after giving birth to Scarlett.
“I wouldn’t be able to do it without my employees; they are wonderful people. There’s no way I could do it without them,” she said. “It’s a wonderful feeling to have such a tight-knit group. I think you should treat your employees with the utmost respect, or you’re not going to survive.”
As for respect, Wall has had to deal with people making assumptions about her as they ask to speak with the “boss.” She doesn’t think they mean any harm but wants to make it clear that women entrepreneurs are out in full force making a go of the business world. She’s been able to do it with support from friends, family, and the community, Wall said.
“Anybody can run a business, anybody can do whatever they put their mind to … it’s a different day and age,” she said. ”I have such a great circle, and am so grateful for that.”
J Dubs is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Hours are noon to 7 p.m. Sundays during football season. Liberty’s Liquor Cabinet is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and seasonal hours are noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. Fish fries are served at the pizzeria from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. To order, call 585-591-3827.
Photos by Howard Owens