Best friends and now business co-owners — Gene Sanguma, 25, Stevie Moman, 25, Tommy Joyce, 27 — have built a following through meaningful connections.
Doing event promotion under their brand “Minneapolis Ties,” their ethic is driven by unity.
“Instead of throwing exclusive events, we’re throwing inclusive events for all types of people,” said Sanguma.
Now, the young entrepreneurs are building inclusive space. On Mar. 12, they held the grand opening of Ties Lounge & Rooftop, 921 Nicollet Mall, drawing a crowd of 2,000 of ages varying 21 to 80, according to Sanguma.
Their goal? To bring people together to heal.
The trio got their start in event promotion in 2018, and eventually landed a contract to lead Thursdays at Pourhouse before the pandemic shut down nightlife.
Like many, they were driven to action by the murder of George Floyd.
“There’s a social separation within our community,” said Sanguma. “There’s one side and then there’s the other side. So we brought it upon ourselves: What’s the one thing that can really bring both sides together? That is entertainment. Unity through entertainment. Everybody likes to have fun.”
“We know that we are a small drop in a hat, in a problem that is much bigger than we can imagine,” added Moman. “But our thing is, if we’re able to push the dominoes just a little bit for the generations after us to continue that change of getting things moving forward, we’ll feel like we’ve done what we can.”
In December of 2020, an investor familiar with Ties expressed interest in backing a physical space. He arranged a business meeting for a month from then, and the team immediately got started crafting a business plan. A key part of their research entailed engaging their target audience — both young and older people — through social media to incorporate community into innovating their concept.
“What we really wanted to do was grab every best thing about every bar, restaurant, event space, nightlife and tie it all under one roof, where this could be a one stop shop for everybody. You don’t need to bar hop. You can bar hop levels,” said Sanguma. “Uber is expensive.”
The initial investor dropped out, but the plans remained. The trio took their vision to friends, family, and anyone that would invest — eventually getting onboard investors and now co-owners, Levi Strowder and Peter Kissi, who goes by KP.
“Their ambition and vision were just undeniable,” said Kissi. By summer of 2021, they had registered the company and secured a location.
Supporting downtown vitality
The new space, Ties Lounge & Rooftop, sits on Nicollet Mall in the former location of Rojo Mexican Grill, which closed in 2019 after the former owner cited difficulties with the location and perceptions of crime.
The lounge has four different levels to accommodate different experiences: a main level outfitted with a karaoke bar and food vendors like Joey Meatballs; a more private mezzanine with an “Instagram room” and an underground club.
Justin Sutherland, Iron Chef champion and the executive chef behind Handsome Hog, is designing a menu and plan for the rooftop, which is anticipated to be open by late May or early June.
Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, appreciates the new business beyond it filling a vacant storefront. “A place like Ties Lounge and Rooftop is perfect. Their mission and focus, the kind of establishment that they will run, will really help activate the streets. It will be an attraction for people to have downtown as a destination.”
The Minneapolis Downtown Council, which tasks itself with downtown’s vitality and operates Nicollet Mall, started the Chameleon Shoppes Program several years ago to get more minority owned and operated businesses, like nearby Coconut Whisk, downtown to ensure a welcoming environment for all.
Though Ties is not part of their program, council staff offered support and encouragement.
“They are there as a new destination, a new entertainment option for people who are either working downtown or coming down for an event and maybe want to do something in addition to whatever event they’re coming to, a game or a concert,” Cramer said. “We also have a very large and still growing downtown residential population that this will now be another option for. It’s been a challenging two years, but we see the light at the end of the tunnel here.”
As downtown re-opens, a range of customers are taking advantage of the ground level bar and restaurant, which Sanguma notes is one of the only “grab and go” food spots in the area.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, several white collar employees stopped in for lunch.
One patron said he has been back in the office for three weeks, but has found many local restaurants still closed. It was his first time eating at a ground level restaurant. He came across Ties while walking past, and stopped in to catch the basketball game. “It’s excellent. This pizza is delicious.”
Likewise, Nas Smith came across the restaurant walking by and invited visiting friends to meet him there for lunch. Sports fan Amber Scates came up from Iowa for the Timberwolves vs. Lakers game and appreciated the relaxed environment.
“It’s not a traditional sports bar where you can’t hear your people. It’s chill. I definitely like the culture, drinks, and variety of food,” Scates said.
Earlier that morning — Ties is open 11 a.m. – 2 a.m. — a different crowd enjoyed the atmosphere. Just after midnight, the area’s stillness was punctured by Britney Spears’ “Toxic” emanating from the karaoke corner at Ties Lounge & Rooftop.
Other businesses closed and the streets empty, Ties offered the only sign of life.