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Progress Edition 2022: The next generation steps into leadership roles

As the baby boomers continue to retire, family members are stepping up to take over businesses.

Five family members standing in their restaurant
Three generations of owners at Mickey's Pizza and Subs are Toni Czeczok, left front, Pat Kaminski, Jim Czeczok, back left, Grace Czeczok and Mickey Kaminski.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Running a family business takes a lot of work, time and, of course, family, especially when the older generation is looking to retire and pass the reins of the legacy built over the years to the next in line.

Though as kids they said they would never want to run the business, years later both Grace Czeczok of Mickey's Pizza and Subs and Chris Bricker of Crystal Cleaners find themselves back at their family’s business learning the in’s and out’s and preparing to take over — eventually.

Mickey's Pizza and Subs

Mickey's Pizza and Subs was established in 1982 by Grace Czeczok’s grandfather, Mickey Kaminski, and her grandmother, Pat Kaminski.

Man at the cash register
For Mickey Kaminski, being retired just means you make your own schedule at Mickey's Pizza and Subs Monday, July 18, 2022.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch

Before opening in 1982, Mickey owned a smoke shop in Brainerd. He sold the business to open Mickey's as a hobby business for Pat and her sisters, said Toni Czeczok, current co-owner of Mickey's and Mickey’s daughter..

The pizza and sub shop at North Ninth and Washington streets ended up taking off and, in a matter of no time, Mickey had to quit his other job to help run the business.

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After running the business for a few years, they knew they needed to expand and in 1989 they ended up moving to their current location, the former Hardee's building on South Fifth Street.

Toni said there was a day, somewhere around 1985, when her dad called her husband Jim Czeczok, who had a background at working in restaurants, and asked him if he would come to the restaurant and help out as someone called in sick.

“That was (in) 1985 and he's been here ever since,” Toni said of Jim. “Then we bought my parents out in 2005 and I still have my dad working here. He's 82 and he's still working here two to three days a week.”

Growing up around the shop, Toni said she would help out whenever she had the chance as she worked in retirement planning services for 18 years prior to joining the family business in 2005.

A few years ago, Jim started talking to Toni about retiring. They talked to her parents about what they wanted to see happen to the legacy they had built up and decided they would try and keep it in the family.

“My dad said, ‘Well, ask Gracie first. Give her the first option,’” Toni said. “So I went down to St. Paul, she had bought a house and was working in the finance industry.”

Two women working at the sub shop
Mother and daughter, Toni Czeczok, front, and Grace Czeczok, work together on the sub line at Mickey's Pizza and Subs Monday, July 18, 2022.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch

Unbeknownst to her mother, at the time Grace started to contemplate a job change.

“I was there for probably six or seven years and I liked my job,” Grace said. “I just wasn't really challenged anymore. Kind of at the top of where I could be with the company at that point without moving out of state. So my mom happened just to be down (in the Cities) and asked, kind of proposed the idea of taking over the business. … So it was almost like perfect timing. I think it was just kind of a mother's instinct maybe.”

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Grace said she would always come into Mickey's after her parents took over in second grade.

“I spent a lot of days and nights here and did what I could to help or slept in a booth,” Grace said. “You know, get in trouble; eat too many suckers.”

Coming back to Brainerd for a year offered a chance to start learning the business and to see if taking over the business and eventually purchasing it was something she would want to do.

“I think after two months, she said, ‘Oh, I could run this business without you guys,’” Toni said of her daughter. “And then after six months, she said, ‘Don't ever leave me.’”

Woman making a sandwich
Willing and able to jump into any position at Mickey's Pizza and Subs, Grace Czeczok prepares a sub Monday, July 18, 2022, for a customer.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch

Grace said she enjoys the challenges of running the business and looks forward to eventually taking over. Though she knows, as both her parents found out, there are family members who still come in to help out during the week and are never too far away for a question.

Not ready to completely retire yet, Toni said she plans to stick around and help with the paperwork and taxes, which Grace Czeczok has no qualms about.

“I'm really lucky that it kind of runs itself, almost,” Grace said. “It's a lot of work and it runs your life. But it also can run really smoothly if you're present and able to help out and do stuff. Me, long term, it'd be cool to franchise and stuff like that. But I know that's 20 years down the road, probably. I'm not in a hurry to do that, I still have a lot to learn.”

Crystal Cleaners

Four family members standing in their dry cleaning buisness
Two generations of owners at Crystal Cleaners are, Chris Bricker, left, Jenny Bricker, Susan Bricker and Rick Bricker.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch

Moving to the Brainerd lakes area and purchasing Crystal Cleaners in 1986, Susan Bricker and Rick Bricker, co-owners of the business, said when their son was 5 years old they felt as though they needed a change.

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“Rick operated Dun-Rite cleaners for 12 years in downtown Minneapolis on Hennepin Avenue and he was real tired of it,” Susan said. “We wanted to move to the country and live on a lake.”

Crystal Cleaners was originally called Crystal Clean Cleaners before the purchase and was located on North Ninth and Washington streets.

Susan said after they first moved up to the area, she and her husband would often take their son, Chris, to the lake.

Man working a steamer at a dry cleaners
Keeping the family business alive, Chris Bricker works a steamer at Crystal Cleaners Friday, July 22, 2022.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch

“We would make a sandwich, go fishing and watch the sunfish jumping in the springtime,” she said.

During one of their after-work fishing trips, they ended up purchasing the property next to the jumping sunfish location.

“He's always had jobs here,” Susan said. “Even at 5 years old, I would have him sort buttons. Yeah, I would have him fill up the washing machine, simple things. Pick up, clean the lint out of the dryers, sweep, you know, that type of thing.”

They were In their location past the historic water tower for four years. Crystal Cleaners moved to its current location on Northwest Fifth and Washington streets in 1990.

Woman working a machine at a dry cleaners
Working alongside her husband at Crystal Cleaners Friday, July 22, 2022, Jenny Bricker steams a customer's dress shirts.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch

For Chris, Crystal Cleaners became his second home as he grew up playing in the shop and even had all his toys in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet in the office.

Growing up like most teenagers from a small town, Chris looked forward to leaving and doing his own thing.

“He did leave for a couple of years and went to chef school, graduated at the top of his class,” Susan said. “When he was doing his internship at Bar Harbor, that's when he realized he didn't want to work holidays, evenings and weekends. And we told him, eventually we're going to sell the cleaners. And once he realized what he wanted for his future, he came back.”

Chris said he loved to cook but found the job did not offer much time to be with family or start his own.

Soon after coming back to the area, Chris started dating the woman who would become his wife, Jenny, who now works at Crystal Cleaners as well.

Still in the works of transferring ownership, with no set timeline, Chris said he is taking it day by day as the industry has changed in the last few years. The business has gone from mostly dry cleaning and pressing to wash and fold, as fabrics and the clothing industry change to the needs of their consumers.

Man steaming a dress
Keeping the family business alive, Chris Bricker steams a dress at Crystal Cleaners Friday, July 22, 2022.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch

“I'm just trying to learn the business,” Chris said. “There's so much. I know everything in the back. Up front, I don't know so much. That's gonna be coming next.”

Though Chris’ plans have changed over the years and through all the “steam, noise and swear words” of working with family, he said it's always a good time coming to work at the place he knows so well.

“It's a really good feeling to help people,” Susan said. “I mean, it doesn't matter whether it's a spot or a ripped seam or to turn dirty clothes into clean. Everybody always likes to, you know, get their nice clean shirt.”

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For your information

Mickey's Pizza and Subs: 22 employees.

Crystal Cleaners: Six employees.

Interesting fact: Both businesses opened right next to each other on North Ninth and Washington streets before moving to their current locations. And after moving, both businesses had a vehicle drive through the front of their stores.

Read more
The Minnesota State Fire Marshal Division initiated the planning for this database after 2017 fire deaths in Minnesota reached a 22-year high.

TIM SPEIER, staff writer, can be reached on Twitter @timmy2thyme , call 218-855-5859 or email tim.speier@brainerddispatch.com .

Tim Speier joined the Brainerd Dispatch in October 2021, covering Public Safety.
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