Saturday, June 23, 2018
Business

Big change comes, gently, to Brooksville's Red Mule Pub

BROOKSVILLE — The signature Reuben sandwich, sliced in half to reveal a heaping mound of pink corned beef, is the same as ever.

So is the paper-lined basket it is served in, and the invariable accompaniments of pickle spear and bag of plain Lay's. So is the Red Mule Pub's jumble of artifacts — the mule-related paraphernalia, the images of sports stars from Brooksville and movie stars from old Hollywood.

In fact, former owner Tim Jinkens had to peer hard at the new menu to spot any changes at all.

"He moved a few items from the right side to the left," Jinkens said of new owner, Dave Dannemiller. "That kind of threw me off for a while."

In a way, the landmark Brooksville restaurant has undergone its most dramatic transition since Tim Jinkens' brother, Les, founded it 39 years ago.

The family sold it to Dannemiller in December, more than a year after Les' death and nearly three years after Tim Jinkens suffered an energy-sapping stroke. Their mother, Julia — former part-time waitress and full-time goodwill ambassador — is finally, at age 91, completely retired.

"We just couldn't do it anymore," said Tim Jinkens, 57, who has stayed on as a part-time employee.

But Dannemiller, recently retired after 34 years as a schoolteacher and school district administrator, is determined to make the transition as undramatic as possible.

Partly, it's his duty to the restaurant's "legacy," said Dannemiller, 57. "I want to see that continued."

Plus, it's good business.

"(Les) provided a good product and good service," he said. "Why mess with that?"

Why indeed, said Keith Forrest, a financial planner from Spring Hill who stops in for a to-go order and a beer about once a week.

Forrest likes the straightforward menu anchored by "overstuffed" sandwiches; plain old turkey or ham are his favorites. He likes the friendliness and the idea of patronizing a business run by people he knows and likes.

"I'm not going through the drive-through at McDonald's," he said. "It's much better to support your local establishment."

If the Red Mule means a few minutes of relaxation for Forrest, it means six days per week of hard work for Dannemiller.

On Monday, he ran the cash register and filled orders, including a carry-out for eight jurors at the courthouse and for sit-down customers who filled every table.

After retiring as principal of Winding Waters K-8 School last June and treating himself to a 12,000-mile coast-to-coast motorcycle tour with his wife, Kathy, Dannemiller found himself a little bored, found that he missed being in the middle of community life.

"I came in to see Tim and said, 'Hey, I got time now. I could close for you or do whatever.' And he said, 'Sure, but I'm going to be selling the place.' "

If the changes to the menu are almost undetectable — adding a marble rye to the selection of breads is the first one Dannemiller mentioned — he's attracted new customers with an active Facebook page and his connections in the school district.

He's also removed some of the unwanted clutter to better show off the pub's collection of painstakingly assembled clutter, Julia Jinkens said.

Without stacks of boxes in the rear hallway, for example, customers can see decades of keepsakes from Hernando High School.

"Now you can actually take a walk down that memory lane," she said. "I couldn't be happier with the change."

She was referring to the change in ownership, which is as gradual as the changes to the decor and menu, she said. Selling to Dannemiller was almost like selling to a member of the family.

Dannemiller was a close friend of Les', bound by a shared love of Harley-Davidsons and the long-ago contribution of one of the pub's signature mementos — a brown, yard-tall bottle of P.O.C. beer, from Cleveland, that celebrates the Jinkenses' and Dannemillers' common Ohio roots.

And Dannemiller ingratiated himself to Julia more than 30 years ago while he worked part time at the pub as a young teacher. She said he remembered to give her a bouquet of flowers one Valentine's Day when her sons did not.

"So what mother did," she said, referring to herself, "mother adopted another son, and his name is David."

Contact Dan DeWitt at [email protected]; follow @ddewitttimes.

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