He graduated from Miami University in 2002 and entered the corporate workforce. He used his business degree and found a rewarding career in the supply chain industry for almost two decades.
He and his wife, Jenny, also a Miami graduate, settled in Cincinnati with their twin children.
Then in 2021, there was a tragic change in plans.
Kuykendoll’s stepfather, Todd Hollenbaugh, died of a heart attack at age 69 in August of that year.
This left Mac & Joe’s, the oldest continuously operated bar in Oxford, plus Circle Bar and Steinkeller with an uncertain future.
“There was no succession plan in place,” said Jill Hollenbaugh, Jim’s mother and Todd’s wife. “It wasn’t something we discussed.”
Jill, Jim and his brother Dustin, who lived in Texas at the time, weren’t sure what to do. Jill, who worked at Miami for 33 years before retiring in 2011 was mostly hands off with the restaurants.
“Everything was inherited by his wife Jill,” said Bill Snavely, current Oxford Mayor and longtime friend of Todd and Jill. “Was she going to sell or do something else? Luckily, Jim stepped up.”
Jim and his wife decided he’d quit his job and take over the business.
“I left my job to do it full time,” Kuykendoll said. “I don’t regret it at all.”
A small empire
Todd started with SDS Pizza shortly after he graduated from Miami in 1973 and then purchased the Circle Bar in 1991 two years after marrying Jill. Then he expanded in 1993 when he became the owner of Mac & Joe’s.
“Todd had good business sense,” said Snavely, who was a professor at Miami for 30 years before retiring in 2007. “He learned early on that to be successful in the city of Oxford, you have to plan for the summer when your business will drop dramatically. People don’t realize how hard it is to make it through the summer here.”
Todd opened Steinkeller in 2000, completing his small restaurant and bar empire. Add it all together and Todd was a fixture in the Oxford restaurant business community for more than 40 years.
When Jim took over the operations in January of 2022, he had a little experience with Mac & Joe’s having worked there as a teenager and while he was in college. He worked the door at Steinkeller, too, but he had not been in charge of a saloon before.
“My first job when I was 14 was washing dishes,” Kuykendoll said.
“We would send him to clean the grease pits when he would mess up or get in a little trouble,” Jill said. “He then worked in the kitchen when he became older. Jim loved to create the garbage nachos.”
Once Kuykendoll graduated, he was out of the restaurant business. He certainly didn’t think he’d be the eventual owner.
A family business
Mac & Joe’s opened in 1946 and is as much a part of Oxford as the red bricks lining High Street.
“Mac & Joe’s is an Oxford treasure,” Snavely said. “It is a unique spot. I don’t know how to put it into words.”
The establishment has long held a special place in the memories of current Miami students and alumni including the Kuykendoll’s.
“We love the places,” Kuykendoll said. “You walk into Mac & Joe’s and there are memories etched in the walls since 1946. It makes you feel a certain way.”
That feeling and wanting to keep things in the family led Kuykendoll to jump into the saloon business.
“We grew up with these places,” he said. “They are important to us. We didn’t want to sell them or dissolve them. We wanted to keep them who they are.”
After taking over, one of the first acts for Jim was to retain Jake Korineck, who is now the Director of Operations for the Circle Bar, Steinkeller and Mac & Joe’s.
Korineck started at Mac & Joe’s in 2005 shortly after transferring to Miami from Otterbein College.
“I needed a job and was told I could be hired on the spot to work the door at Mac & Joe’s if I showed up on a certain night,” Korineck said. “I was 19 years old and started working the door and as a bar back.”
Since then Korineck has worked in every job there is at each place from bartending to managing schedules and ordering supplies.
“We retained Jake,” Kuykendoll said. “We share the same values and vision for the place. We understand the history and have a common vision.”
There was a tricky transition period which lasted about a year as Kuykendoll started to implement changes to the operation bringing his experience from the supply chain world to the three bars.
“It was really challenging,” Korineck said. ”Had never gone through that. We had to change how we do some things.”
Kuykendoll wanted to build out the team and also give Mac & Joe’s a little refresh without removing any of the ambiance.
“The first thing we did was write down values we wanted to work and live by,” Kuykendoll said.
“We are in a 100 percent better place,” said Korineck. “It took a lot of time to change our POS (point of service), our credit card processing, improvements to the building and we painted and refinished our tables and booths.”
Kuykendoll has around 80 employees which is up from about 60 when he started as the owner.
“It helped starting with Jake,” Kuykendoll said. “You never really accomplish anything worthwhile without a team.”
Jill is thrilled Kuykendoll is using his Miami University degree to carry on the legacy.
“All of my family have Miami university degrees,” Jill said. “Jim is using the skills he was taught in the business school.”
While in school, Kuykendoll was a student in one of Snavely’s management classes.
“I had Jim in an organizational behavior class,” Snavely said. “He was a good student and he is now managing and leading. That’s what we talked about.”
Mac & Joe’s bills itself as a restaurant and saloon and is open for lunch and dinner. Snavely endorses the cheeseburger as his favorite menu item. Kuykendoll also favors the burger, but his wife is keen on the Turkey Gobbler sandwich.
“If she had a last meal, it would probably be the Turkey Gobbler,” Kuykendoll said.
Miami University came first in 1809, then Oxford was incorporated in 1830 and Mac & Joe’s opened in 1946. There is a lot of shared history among these places even though Mac & Joe’s is the youngest.
“In my mind, Mac & Joe’s is part of Miami and Miami is part of Mac & Joes,” Kuykendoll said. “That’s why we’re so proud to keep it going. It is embedded in the community in Miami. It’s not something that you can rebuild.”
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