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The new kid on the block
Jason Cutler sits in his bar on a Wednesday afternoon, chatting with the regulars and enjoying his latest entrepreneurial venture. While he shares the same last name as the famous Chicago Bears quarterback, Jay Cutler, he resembles more of an offensive lineman, with broad shoulders and a wide base. He is intimidating at first glance because of his size and stature, but he opens his mouth and smiles and you realize he’s harmless.
JC’s Place opened over the summer, after Cutler took over the Northside Tavern, a biker bar on Whitney Avenue in the shadow of the Sleeping Giant State Park. From the outside, it doesn’t look like there would be much room to breathe inside JC’s Place. It is a one-story building made up of brown bricks with a brown roof. After passing through the tunnel-like entry way, accented in white and black stripes, and through the front door, it quickly becomes a breath of fresh air compared to the other bars in Hamden. It is well lit and clean, and doesn’t have the smell of dried beer and food grease yet. The light tile contrasts with the wood molding and the dark, stained doors.
It takes the best qualities from Andale’s (often referred to as Dick’s) and Odie’s Place and welcomes customers right away with a large u-shaped bar. Six drafts, two mini-fridges and two rows of liquor bottles occupy the bar, and Cutler knows where everything is as if it were second nature. The Yankees game is on, but since they’ve dropped out of playoff contention customers do not pay much attention to the television. Cutler is quick to jump behind the bar to get a beer or make a drink for his regulars, and does it all with a big smile on his face.
Cutler hasn’t always had the luxury of being a laid-back bar owner. Previously he owned two nightclubs in New Haven: Pulse and Center Street Lounge. Being a nightclub owner is a strenuous position, especially in New Haven, which Cutler believes is becoming a ghost town.
“New Haven basically fizzled out,” Cutler said. “It just went to hell and I just couldn’t go on down there. I had sold one of the clubs a year and a half ago and I closed the other in February. I got so fed up and just decided to close it down. I was tired of the hustle and bustle.”
One of the most notable differences between JC’s Place and other bars in Hamden is the drink specials. JC’s Place has drink specials that are consistent throughout the week including $1 Natural Lights, $2 cans of beer, and $3 shots of Fireball whiskey. Other places in Hamden will run the already thin pockets of college students dry.
“I don’t want to be greedy,” Cutler said. “I want people to be happy, I want people to come in here and see that my overhead is much lower than a lot of other places on this strip. They usually have other business partners, this is just JC, it’s all me.”
Cutler is a Hamden native, and lived there up until six years ago when he purchased his house in North Haven. After graduating from Hamden High School, he went on to receive his associate’s degree at Gateway Community College. During his time at Gateway, he was a bakery manager at Stop and Shop. After working in retail for a long time he decided he wanted to do something different. He started investing in real estate, doing rental properties until about seven years ago when he found a nightclub for sale on Craigslist.
“My uncle had owned a bar so I always thought I would own a neighborhood bar or something,” Cutler said. “When the club came up, the price was right, but I didn’t know anything about the business.”
Cutler’s inspiration from his uncle sparked interest in running a profitable business of his own. He ended up going into business with his friend who was a bartender and a restaurant manager. For the first year he continued to work at Stop and Shop and manage the nightclub. He put all of his money into it and wasn’t sure exactly what to expect out of his investment. Within a year, Cutler had bought himself a house and quit his job at Stop and Shop, becoming a full time owner of the Center Street Lounge. After four years of owning Center Street, JC found another investment opportunity on Craigslist.
“Whether it’s buying a piece of property, renting a piece of property, buying a business, you name it. I live my life on Craigslist,” Cutler said.
Cutler is a man of opportunity. Living his life moment to moment and trying to capitalize on any great prospect he can. His determined demeanor has helped him to create rewarding investments across the table. That next prospect he found became the nightclub Pulse. Any Quinnipiac students enrolled during 2011 and 2012 would surely remember the line of freshmen dressed in their club attire, piling into the shuttles to go out to Pulse.
For two years, Cutler ran both clubs simultaneously. Since they were a block away from each other, it was easy for him to manage both at the same time. After some time, Cutler decided New Haven was getting too rocky for him and he had to sell one of his clubs.
“I had to get out of one,” he said. “I sold out to my business partner on Center Street and I managed Pulse on my own. I did that for another year and a half until New Haven finally just hit the bed and I moved forward.”
Cutler closed Pulse in February and decided to take some time off. With no real idea of what his next move would be, he looked into the Northside Tavern, which had closed down in December. He started talking to the landlord and finally acquired the property in June. Then began the transformation into JC’s Place.
Kenny Pilanski is a senior psychology major. He met Cutler over the summer while he was residing in Hamden. After coming in to see what the bar was all about, Pilanski wanted to help get this years senior class to make JC’s a new hotspot.
“I feel that JC’s will be a big hit amongst the senior class,” Pilanski said. “They are strict on ID’s, have cheap drink deals, and a good amount of space. Overall, JC’s is doing it right, and I feel that they will be successful.”
Matt Cugine, a senior studying computer information systems, went to JC’s Place on a Wednesday to play some pool and enjoy cheap drinks. Upon arrival, Cugine’s ID was checked by the bouncer.
“We snapped three Pennsylvania fake ID’s already tonight,” said the bouncer to Cugine. “Congratulations you’re the first one to get through.”
JC’s Place is making its push to be the new hot spot in Hamden. While Cutler explains he isn’t interested in claiming a specific night, he has implemented Karaoke on Wednesday nights. He also plans to get live music and DJ’s to bring in large crowds to the bar.
While it isn’t the biggest place in Hamden, it may make a case for being the nicest and cleanest. The floor isn’t sticky, the toilets actually flush, and the stools aren’t wobbly. The back room houses a pool table that is actually functional and has yet to have a drink spilled on it. Surrounding the pool table are white leather couches that you would never expect to see in a bar.
“You know what, you go to places and you see different things,” Cutler said. “You go to clubs you go to bars, you know. Complaints I hear about [Andale’s] and stuff is how trashy it is, how disgusting it is, how the urinal has been broken for years. I can’t operate like that. I wanted something different, not high end, but casual and classy.”
That mindset has helped JC’s Place to boom in popularity so far this semester.
Some upperclassmen have gone to JC’s Place during the week instead of usual hot spots like Odie’s Place or Andale’s.
Tori Lo, a senior occupational therapy major, was a bartender at JC’s until recently. While she doesn’t have a professional relationship with Cutler anymore, she still frequents JC’s Place during the week.
“Jay is different from other bar owners in the way he promotes his bar,” Lo said. “I think the way he promotes his business is pretty beneficial to JC’s. He definitely has good ideas that will help him be successful. It’s tough to compete with bars that already have reputations for being popular but with his cheap drink prices and a set-up that people enjoy being around, he’s certainly doing it right.”
Senior Jake Carleton works as a bartender at JC’s Place. Carleton created a Twitter for JC’s Place so that he could gain some buzz around the bar before the school year began. Cutler runs the Facebook page himself.
“We created the twitter in hopes to gain a following at Quinnipiac,” Carleton said. “We weren’t really known as we opened at the end of July this year, and the hope was to share our great deals and the proximity to campus in order to attract the Quinnipiac population.”
Cutler has just recently partnered up with Spuds Your Way, a food truck company from Hamden that frequents Quinnipiac’s farmer’s market in the Fall. They are known for their loaded baked potatoes, including steak and cheese or grilled chicken. Having this partnership has also helped differentiate JC’s Place from the Mexican style menu or pizzas that are usually seen at bars in Hamden.
“You can go anywhere around here and get a pizza, but again this is different. I don’t want to be like any other bar on this street,” Cutler said.
Once business starts getting busier, Cutler said he plans to do late night meals for Quinnipiac students.
While the semester is still young, JC’s Place is already starting to become the hot new spot. What started out as a vision for a new kind of neighborhood bar has flowered into a profitable business that shows no signs of slowing down at this time.
“You know what, it’s up and down,” said Cutler. “I don’t have any specific night, one week it’s a Monday or a Tuesday. I couldn’t tell you any consistency, but again it’s only been seven weeks. Every day is a learning experience for me.”