‘You don’t take a shot, you never know’

As NHL great Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100 percent of the shot you don’t take.”

Life will present many opportunities. Some will pan out perfectly. Some won’t. The shots you do make when they matter most, however, are the ones you’ll always talk about.

Kapaa resident Jeff Nash took his shot when he and his wife, Tina, moved to Kauai three years ago to open their own restaurant.

Today, they are the owners of 9th Island Sports Bar & Grill and business is thriving. 

Most mornings, Nash is at the place prepping it for the day. He took some time out of his morning to speak with The Garden Island about how life has brought him to starting his venture on the island.

The Garden Island: The first time we talked, I remember you said you were a writer.

Jeff Nash: I worked at the University of Minnesota newspaper. I did sports for them. I was a journalism major at the University of Minnesota and I wrote for the paper. I played tennis in high school and for two years in college. They gave me a job to cover tennis.

I was in a smaller school in Duluth, Minnesota. Played two years up there, then transferred to (the University of Minnesota) and wrote for the paper there.

TGI: How long were you doing that?

JN: I think just a couple of semesters. Because then I got out of school and moved to Vegas. 

TGI: What were you doing in Las Vegas?

JN: I worked for a (Budweiser) distributer, a Coors distributer and a liquor distributer. I was there for 30 years. Stayed in that business and that’s kind of how I got into this business. I helped people open bars by selling liquor and beer. My wife had a small restaurant. She grew up on Oahu. Wanted to come back to the islands. So when the economy went to hell, we decided that if we didn’t do it then, we would never have the chance to do it. So just kind of picked up, moved over here and decided to open this place.

I started in the warehouse. Moved myself up to sales manager for the Coors division. The last five years I was there, I was sales manager for Coors.

TGI: How long ago was that?

JN: Three years this August. We’ll have been open for two years, first of October.

TGI: So three years ago, you just left?

JN: Always wanted to have a bar. Just went for it. As they say in Vegas, “We went all in.” Just came over here to open this up. It’s been pretty good.

TGI: How was it you came this location? Did you have a place set up when you moved?

JN: No. My wife has a friend she went to high school with that lives here on the island. Has been here for 20-something years. So we came out here on vacation knowing we wanted to do this. He took us all over the island showing us different spots where they were either bars at one time, maybe bars for sale. We just kept coming back to this location. Just seemed to be the one. Because it’s in a shopping center. A lot of foot traffic from Starbucks right there. 

It was a Cold Stone ice cream shop before it was a bar. Where the bar is was where the ice cream display case was. We didn’t have to put floors, the walls. We had to put the kitchen and put another bathroom and we had to put the bar in. So it was fairly simple to get it all together. We just like this spot.

TGI: You said you always wanted to have your own bar. Was it as you expected it to be when you first opened?

JN: It was actually better than we expected. We actually thought just opening that I would bartend and she would run the kitchen and maybe one server. We didn’t know what the business would be like, but the good thing is that we opened during football season. 

Football was already a month in. People were looking for something that was air conditioned and watch football. We hit it at the right time. I think the reason we’ve done well is we hit a niche within the Kapaa area. We’ve got other places that have been around, but our crowd seems to be a little bit older. It’s not kids. Well, kids you know, 21 to 25, we do get some of that. But we’re getting the 25 to 65 because, like I said, it’s air conditioned, it’s cool. Our food is really good. People really like it. And it’s a clean atmosphere. I’m here every morning cleaning, as you can see. I make sure it’s clean and presentable.

TGI: From opening, how long did it take until the place started to get regulars?

JN: I’d say, I don’t know, six months. Because they would keep coming back for football. Then they would start coming back other days when there wasn’t football because, like I said, they like the food and they like the atmosphere. 

We’re probably 80-20 locals to tourists. I would think somewhere in that neighborhood. Last night, we had some tourists but mostly local. Watching the basketball game but when it was over, people come in to eat, drink and have fun.

TGI: So basically, football season is the best time then? How about the rest of the year with basketball, baseball and other sports?

JN: It’s not as big. Basketball, some baseball, some hockey. Not as much as football. If there was a scale of 100 percent, football is probably 80 percent. Sports wise, what people come in to watch. Because there’s just more football fans than basketball fans. 

TGI: Do you anticipate the business flow around football season?

JN: Yeah. Football is our biggest five months out of the year. Because of the local crowd we have, business has been real good. From the first or second month we’ve opened, if we compare to the following year, we’ve almost doubled our business. Now we’re getting into that third year. So, we’ve got to see where we’re at. Business, I think, just takes a while. We’ll see come October. That will be our third October. So we’ll be able to judge how we’re doing.

I think most people, that’s what they do. They go year to year and see how they do.

TGI: Did you do any writing after college?

JN: No. I kind of left it all behind and turned the page. Another chapter, you know? That’s kind of what life is. 

Life just kind of leads you to where you want to go. Sometimes there’s U-turns, left turns and right turns. You never know where it’s going to end up. But (for me), this is the last one. It’s a good place to be. From Minnesota, Vegas to Kauai. 

TGI: Were you ever in Las Vegas before moving there?

JN: Never. Just moved there. My friend lived there. Played softball for three years. Really didn’t work because that’s all we did. Then from there, got the job at the Budweiser distributor, then just kind of stayed in that business. Still in that business.

One of the guys that ran the softball team was the general manager at the Bud distributor. He gave me a job. A lot of how you get your job is who you know. I needed a job. He said, “Just come on down and we’ll give you a job.” And I’ve worked in a warehouse before between school years. So he gave me a job in the warehouse and then just moved myself up to sales manager. Just kept working and kept working.

TGI: You said your wife is from Oahu. How did you meet?

JN: She lived in Oahu. Her best friend’s husband was in the bar business. Can’t remember what it was, but he transferred to Vegas. The husband and her best friend moved to Vegas. She just said, “I’m going to go, too.” She moved to Vegas and then he introduced me to her. From there, been married for 20 years.

TGI: Congratulations.

JN: Thank you.

TGI: If she’s from Oahu, then how did you two end up on Kauai?

JN: Oahu’s too busy. Oahu is like L.A. or Vegas. To me, it’s just too busy. Probably more expensive, but I don’t know. Didn’t like that city life anymore. 

I liked (Kauai). I always said I went from 100 miles an hour in Vegas down to 10. For me, I’m 58 years old and I was fine with it. People here are great. They really are. Transition was easy. Everybody accepted us right away. 

TGI: So you said your wife was in the restaurant business?

JN: Yeah. She was a waitress first, then she wanted to work for herself. We opened a little restaurant in Vegas. 

It was open for three years. Then when the economy hit, it couldn’t make it. When the economy is bad, Vegas gets hit the worst.

We were in an industrial complex. She had all these people coming in the complex, plus she did catering. She catered to Vision Airlines which was a tourist (charter airline) taking people from Vegas to the Grand Canyon. She was probably doing 3 or 400 lunch boxes a day.

When the economy hit, nobody was coming to Vegas. They really cut back. The center that she was in pretty much cleared out. There was no business. All the construction left. The hotels were laying everybody off. It was the highest foreclosure rate in the country. Just nobody was there. We couldn’t sustain it. So we had to close it down.

TGI: When the economy was bad, was that when you decided to move?

JN: It started to. We figured if we didn’t do it then, we would be stuck there. We wouldn’t never be able to do it. We decided it was a good time to do it and take a chance. 

TGI: Do you miss the Mainland? Las Vegas? Minnesota?

JN: Not really. I just came back from Minnesota. I was there for a wedding. Trying to go to Vegas in August. I started a golf tournament with a friend of mine that passed away. He was a large man. We started the golf tournament to raise money for certain charities. It would be 11 years this year that we’ve had this golf tournament. It’s called the Fat Boy Open. It’s still going. It’s 240 players, or 200 plus players every year.

The foursome has to weight in. We got a weight scale. You got to weigh 900 pounds as a foursome. Not everybody does. The first few years in the same group, the one guy was 450 pounds by himself. He was huge. We actually had an article in Golf Digest.

When I moved, he just kind of took it over. It grew and grew. I didn’t go last year because of getting this business, but now we’re established enough. We got decent people where I can get away and plan to go. I going to try to go back in August for it.

Over the course of 11 years, we’ve raised a lot of money. 

TGI: Going back to business, how rowdy do the crowds get during football season?

JN: Pretty rowdy. Our biggest fan base is Seattle. So with them being in the Super Bowl, the Super Bowl was really good for us. Then we get a lot of Niner fans. A lot of fans of really everybody. On Sundays, we can’t even move in here. There’s so many people. Every seat is full and everybody is having a good time.

It’s a good rowdy.

TGI: Any plans in the immediate future for this place?

JN: We’re looking to expand. There was a restaurant next door to us and they went out of business. We’re in negotiations right now to sign a lease with them. We’ll have music, dancing, all that kind of stuff. Live music, bands, more TVs, and bigger crowds for football hopefully.

We want bigger and better. I think the niche that we hit with the older crowd, well I don’t really want to use that word but you know what I’m saying. They’re looking for a place to go, looking for somewhere to listen to music without banging heads with kids. That’s kind of what we want to do. Keep the atmosphere we have but make it bigger.

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