New Botski’s owner aims to carry on founder’s legacy

March 4, 2019

By Mick Garry, for SiouxFalls.Business

Genuine neighborhood bars share one thing in common: No matter how good the food is or how cold the beer, the main attraction is always going to be the familiarity its customers have with each other.

By that measure, Botski’s, a bustling little place near Sycamore Avenue and 26th Street, delivers as promised. It also comes with an inspiring history involving friendship, sadness, loyalty, resolve and, ultimately, joy. The fried chicken is dynamite too.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, owner Mike Klinedinst, a former high school teacher, football coach, athletic director and assistant high school principal, sat in the bar he has now owned for a matter of months and talked about how he became proprietor of Botski’s, originally owned by his close friend Jon “Jono” Bot, a well-known Sioux Falls restaurant and bar owner over the past three decades who died last September after a long battle with cancer.

“I was sitting with my wife having coffee one morning, and I told her I hate saying I bought the bar,” Klinedinst said. “I don’t like that. She said ‘Just tell people that Jono entrusted the bar to you.’ That is the best way to say it. I’m a caretaker; I try to carry on what he was about. The things we’ve done in here, the changes we’ve made, are all to honor him.”

Replacing a beloved one-of-a-kind fellow like Jono Bot was never going to be the goal. Sustaining his memory via the establishment he maintained was the next best thing.

“This is a ‘Cheers’ bar,” said regular customer Brad Cable, a friend to both Bot and Klinedinst. “When you walk in, everybody knows your name. I think that’s the way it always will be now. Kliney is going to make sure it stays that way.”

Klinedinst and Bot had known each other for a long time but developed a friendship when they began running into each other at this same bar, known as Dean-O’s at the time. Bot spent so much time there, in fact, that he bought the place in 2012 at the suggestion of his wife, Susan.

When Bot’s cancer treatments took him to the Mayo Clinic for extended stays a few years later, Klinedinst volunteered to take on Bot’s daily 4 to 5:30 p.m. shift at the bar. He didn’t know it at the time, but this would be valuable experience for the retiree who’d spent 41 years involved in education.

Drawn to Bot’s easy-going charisma, Botski’s had became a popular neighborhood hangout with a fried chicken recipe developed at Jono’s, Bot’s previous bar and restaurant, along with a menu full of burgers, sandwiches and homemade pizza. When his illness made it impractical to continue on as owner, he and Klinedinst began to discuss a transaction.

Bot viewed it as a favor to his customers to pass it along to someone familiar with the bar’s clientele and distinctive environment. Klinedinst viewed it as an intriguing favor to a close friend involving a place he enjoyed.

Eventually, the change took place. Klinedinst and his wife, Penny, a downtown business owner who operates Plum’s Cooking Co., Simply Perfect and Threads, initially looked at moving the place to a larger venue because business was booming — and still is — but once they sat down and really looked at what they were dealing with, decided against it.

“It was ‘No, it’s staying right here,’ ” Klinedinst said. “It’s a neighborhood bar; it shouldn’t go anywhere. Jono was extremely pleased that we weren’t going to move it.”

Bot’s sister, Connie England, told Klinedinst the pair were “two peas in a pod.” It was an idle observation at the time, but it definitely left an impression on Botski’s new owner.

“I thought it was the finest compliment I’d ever had,” Klinedinst said. “I tried to do exactly what he did while he owned it. We called it ‘schmooze and booze.’ I stay out of the kitchen; I stay out of the way. I visit tables; I make sure everybody is happy with what they have. I make sure they know I appreciate them being here, especially in this cold weather. That’s what he did.”

Klinedinst counts among his early successes the fact that the staff has stayed largely intact, as has the bar’s core clientele. It’s obvious when visiting the place — with a family sitting at one table, a senior couple at another and regulars lining the bar — that maintaining the establishment’s welcoming spirit has been the real target.

“This has been seamless, and I think it’s because we are such a neighborhood bar,” said Jen Krueger, who has worked at the establishment since it was known as Dean-O’s. “It’s not like working for a big corporation or a big bar where you have to worry about the ounces poured. If your books come out at the end of the night and your customers are happy, then the owners are happy.”

To that end, Klinedinst was reading from the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson — seriously, the football coach was an English minor at Augustana — and found a passage that serves as a tribute to his predecessor.

Parts of the poem attributed to Emerson are on the wall at Botski’s now. It includes phrases such as “to laugh often and laugh much” and “to find the best in others” and “to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.”

“I tried to pull parts of the poem out so that people who knew him would read it and say, ‘That’s who Jono was,’ ” Klinedinst said. “And so that people who didn’t know him would read it and feel like they knew him. His legacy will continue.”

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New Botski’s owner aims to carry on founder’s legacy

“I’m a caretaker; I try to carry on what he was about.” Meet the man who knows he will never replace Jono as the owner of Botski’s, but who considers himself guardian of a legacy.

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