POCATELLO — Cue & Brews is under new ownership, and the new managers are trying to make the Pocatello bar a lunch, pool and hangout place for people of all ages.
Pocatello natives Jeff Diller and Jeremiah Huskey bought the bar at 259 E. Center St. on June 1 from the previous owner. Since then, they’ve added more items to the business’s menu and extended the hours the business is open.
The previous owner, who opened the bar in October 2016, had a full-time job and was running the bar as kind of a pet project, according to Diller. That meant the bar’s hours weren’t ideal, and it was closed on Sundays.
A few months ago, Diller and Huskey walked by the bar, and the owner was getting rid of pool tables.
“We thought maybe he was selling the business, and he was like, ‘No. But why? Are you interested?’” Diller said. “And we were like, ‘Yeah. Let me talk to my buddy and see what we can do.’ In a matter of a week or two, we ended up with the business and it’s just been flowing along ever since.”
When they took over the business, both Diller and Huskey had full-time jobs elsewhere. Since then, Diller has been able to run the bar full time; Huskey is still transitioning from his other job but works at Cue & Brews in the evenings.
“We’re kind of new to it but both of us had parts in making the place what it was,” Diller said. “We were around a bit when it was coming together. Three and a half, four years later, we got the opportunity to buy it, so it’s like our own little home place, too.”
The biggest item on the agenda for them is getting word out there that Cue & Brews is open for business — despite the business being around for several years, Diller says he frequently hears people say they didn’t know about the bar — and that they’re doing everything they can to make sure customers are safe despite the threat of the coronavirus.
Diller says they are practicing social distancing and cleaning constantly. They wipe down the tables and chairs with bleach after every group leaves. The cue sticks are sorted into clean and dirty.
“We want people to feel safe coming in,” Diller said. “People have that stigma right now with the bars that they’re really hard to (clean). We have a way of separating people out and (they) have their own tables.”
While Diller says they’ve enjoyed getting into owning a business, it’s also been more complicated than he expected, even though they’ve both worked in the food service industry before.
“We had no idea what a restaurant or a business has to do to operate,” he said. “Just all the daily functions. It’s a huge eye-opener. It was big. You kind of get the idea, and you dive into it and it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh. It is 24/7.’”
The biggest surprise for the duo was learning how to manage the food side of the business.
“We have a Merrychef, and it’s a traditional oven and microwave oven at the same time,” Diller said. “It’ll cook a pizza in a minute and 50 seconds, chicken wings in like two and a half minutes. It’s unreal. So there was this crazy microwave oven thing that we’ve got to learn how to use and getting qualified for classes for food services and getting hooked up with vendors and making that happen — those have been some challenges we’ve had to do in (a few) months, but we’ve gotten through them all. We’re serving food already, and we got certified through our classes.”
The previous owner only had small snacks for sale, but Huskey and Diller have been working hard to get a full menu up and running so that the bar can become more of a restaurant and can be open to minors as well.
“We realized that if we’re going to serve food and do lunches and we want to get a lunch rush of people in, we have to have a bigger kitchen space,” Diller said. “So we took one of the rooms that’s in the basement and it was a subpar kitchen before and we just gutted the whole thing out and revamped it. … We feel that if we can turn it into more of an eatery, we can do junior leagues out of here. We can have kids come in who are underage and spend their days here during the daytime, an X number of hours a day, and they can come in and we can do junior leagues and junior tournaments and provide a place for that, too.”
For now, patrons must be 21 to enter the bar, but Diller said they hope to be able to open it up to people of all ages soon.
According to Alcohol Beverage Control, a business in Idaho must have at least 40 percent sales in food to be considered a restaurant, thus allowing minors inside.
The bar’s menu includes appetizers such as nachos, finger steaks, mushrooms, fries, mozzarella sticks and pretzels with cheese. For entrees, they have hot wings, chicken tenders, sandwiches and homemade flatbread pizzas — the latter of which Diller says they’ve been pushing hard and have been a hit. Additionally, because of the oven they have, things that would usually have to be deep fried are air fried instead, making them healthier. Most items on the menu are $8.50 or less, and customers who purchase lunch can play pool for free.
While the food side of the business has been picking up, Diller said they’d like to see even more people drop in for a meal.
“We’re operating at a level that’s pretty sustainable, but we want to pick it up so we have less food waste. It just helps turn over your kitchen more,” he said. “Some of those are challenges of a business that you don’t think about. You think, ‘Oh we’ll just stick all this stuff in the freezer and we’ll just sell it.’ It can only stay there for so long, so things become time sensitive."
Cue & Brews sells only beer and wine, not liquor, though Diller said they briefly considered trying to get a liquor license but ultimately decided against it.
“We like the niche that we have,” he said. “It’s really clean. It’s really sharp. We don’t have to deal with a lot of super drunk (people). If we’re going to have kids in here, families in here, if we’re going to push that angle, it kind of serves better as a beer bar and pool hall more than anything.”
There are currently 10 rotating beers on tap — eight craft beers and two domestics — and Diller would like to up that to 20 taps eventually. They also serve other drinks, including hard seltzers, and patrons can get flights of beer as well.
Cue & Brews hosts pool tournaments every Sunday at 1 p.m., and there are pool leagues that use the facility as well.
They’re also getting a dart league up and running and hope to add a couple more dart boards in the bar.
Taking over a business in the midst of a worldwide pandemic has been a challenge, Diller said, but in some ways it’s also been a blessing. Because the bar isn’t as busy as it might be otherwise, it’s given him and Huskey time to learn the ropes and make some upgrades to the bar, including getting a more prominent sign outside and adding art to the tall and previously empty walls. Eventually Diller says they might rearrange the floorplan to transform the front part of the building into a dance floor.
“Our name is really tiny in this huge market that we’re in. So getting our name out is huge, but at the same time the COVID kept us from doing that and it’s been OK,” Diller said. “We haven’t been (bombarded) so we’re getting changes done that we need to do. We’re putting a kitchen in the basement so that we can serve more foods. We have some changes in signage and curtains and rearranged the floor. We’ve had only (a few) months to do this, but because it’s been a little bit slow, it helped us a little bit.”
He added, “COVID kind of stinks. We always wish we could be busier, but it’s given us time to develop ourselves.”
Cue & Brews opens at 10 a.m. every day and closes at midnight Monday through Thursday, 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit facebook.com/cueandbrews.