An Entrepreneurial Spirit
It might seem a little unorthodox to see a former minister running a bar. But it’s just a different kind of “ministry,” say Dennis and Candace Plzak. Like most entrepreneurs in Apache Junction the Plzaks saw an opportunity to serve their community in a unique way and jumped right in.
Candace says don’t think of her as the typical entrepreneur.
“We’re definitely independent and unique.”
Candace was a pastor of a church while her son was a youth minister. Five years later, with a little family investment, Candace and Megan, Dennis’ wife, bought the bar and Megan had a baby, so she stays at home now and Dennis helps run the restaurant.
“I think there is a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit that runs in the family,” Dennis said. “It was a really cool opportunity.”
“The original plan was that we would be open maybe four nights a week, with some great beer, wine and good food, music and we would meet people, and have fun,” she says.
“Have a good time and get to know the local people.”
“We started not knowing what we were doing at all, it’s definitely been trial and error, and the demand was bigger than we imagined.”
Five years ago, Dennis had no idea he would be running a bar.
“Now? [I] Love it. Couldn’t see myself anywhere else.”
Dennis says moving from ministry to running a bar isn’t as dissimilar as you would think.
“People say that all the time, ‘it’s a huge difference,’ but it’s still working with people. Some people get paid to do ministry but we are all doing ministry. There is still an opportunity here in how you meet people and interact with people and be able to help people here as well.”
There was a time it looked like the Plzaks might throw in a towel without a little divine influence.
Candace relates a story about how when they first bought the restaurant – in cash – they tried to plan a big summer promotion to draw customers but ran low on cash to buy the beer for the event. As a former minister, she looked for a sign. She knew she would have access to money in a few days but needed to stock the bar for the event the next day. She picks up the story from there:
“I’m just asking you for cash. This is going to be a defining moment, I want you to make it very clear, if you want me to walk away, I will close the door and walk away or you provide what we need.”
A gutsy call on her part but then came a sign.
“About 5 o’clock it started raining so hard,” she said. “I mean, pouring rain. By 5:30, everybody left. It was raining so hard and I thought, I’d asked to make it very clear. I’m devastated but I am going to hold to it. Then, the power went out on this side of the street.”
Pretty clear sign, right? By this time, the bar began flooding. Then came another sign.
“Car after car stopped because they couldn’t get home. They stopped here. The place got so full, it was standing room only. We sold every ounce of food we had. One guy brought in his windup flashlights, so we had light. And everybody had the best time ever. And every single person had to be in cash. Because we were out of power.”
Needless to say, the event the next day went off successfully, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Making Their Mark
Whether customers come for a microbrew or the yummy green chile burger, the Handlebar has made its mark on Apache Trail.
The microbrews are a staple. There are 27 drafts at any given time, with the beers being rotated regularly. You can see what you missed if you look up. After a keg is drained, the handle is placed in the ceiling. Hundreds now line the rafters throughout the bar.
One of the most popular burger-and-beer places in town has a lot more than just those items on the menu.
“There’s a great mix of people,” Candace said. “There’s more and more of a younger feel. The younger people are looking for the craft beer, they try the food and they like the atmosphere. So that brings them back.”
Candace’s son, Dennis, put it in perspective.
“I think that is one of the things that defines this place a bit is that we define ourselves as a pub, not a bar or a restaurant, but a pub,” Dennis Plzak said. “A restaurant is where people go to eat. A bar is a place to drink. But a pub is a place where people are known and where we get to know people. We wanted to hear their stories.”
Dennis’ mother, Candace, adds, “We call it the Happy Place because people come here to be happy.”
How would Candace describe her place in Apache Junction.
“Beside the fact that I absolutely love it? It’s got a more independent feel than the rest of the Valley. Obviously there is a cowboy feel. But it’s just a more friendly, open, independent kind of a place. We like that.”