Goodbye menthol, hello pizza!

This article was written by Ry Edwards

As the world becomes more health-conscious about the detrimental effects of tobacco, many Minneapolis citizens have urged the government to make obtaining and using tobacco products more difficult. In August 2018, Minneapolis lawmakers restricted the sale of menthol-flavored tabacco products exclusively to specialty tobacco shops and off-sale liquor stores.

This change, coupled with new paid-leave requirements and increasing minimum wage, has some small-business owners feeling devastated with new challenges. But one businessman, at 42nd and Fremont, has left all the grief over the change behind him.

The manager of the Camden Mart Community Store, Joe Abi Saab, says that when the menthol restrictions went into place, he immediately began losing $1,300 of sales per day. Joe admits that he was fearful for the first couple months as he watched his sales drop to a new baseline. Suddenly, he had to manage cashflow for his inventory, payroll, utilities, rent and other bills, with $48,000 less each month.

“I toyed with the idea of converting part of the store into a tobacco shop,” says Joe, then adds with a smile, “But, I don’t like cigarettes! I don’t want my kids using that stuff. So, I said ‘no’ to that idea.”

Joe never dreamed of owning a tobacco shop. But he does a have a childhood dream that’s about to come true. 

“Pizza,” Joe says, “is a long-time dream of mine. It may seem like a small thing. But for me, it was something I always got excited about. Ever since I was a boy!”

When his dream started to look feasible, Joe was originally interested in opening his pizza shop in the space next door to Camden Mart. However, when he reached out to the landlord, the Thirsty Whale Bakery was already in negotiations. Now, with the till coming up a half-million dollars short each year, he’s been motivated to get creative.

Joe looked at other locations, but then reassessed what he already had. After going over the books, Joe managed to find a way to reduce his inventory to open up enough space to build his pizza parlor right inside the Camden Mart Community Store!

Joe is nearing the final stages of a three-year-plan. In the next few months, Joe will finish the remodel and begin looking to hire part-time employees.

“Most of my business is made up of the 100 people who live right around this corner. My regulars!” Joe says with pride. “I enjoy getting to see the same people every day. They know my name. And serving them is my business.” Joe pauses, then nearly bubbles over with excitement, “But I can’t wait to open this Great American Pizza franchise.  It’ll be great for the community to have a pizza place again!”

Camden Mart currently also houses the Mini-Olympic Café and Joe is partnering with the restaurant to come up with new meal deals that will help both of their businesses!