A sketch of an ear-to-ear grinning Eskimo and his slobbering dog, Buffy is the nationally renowned trademark of a 35-year-old college town company whose sales now gross more than $18 million with about 550 employees, thanks in part to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
“We wouldn’t be where we are today without SBA,” said Stan Clark, owner of Eskimo Joe’s headquartered in Stillwater, Okla.
In July 1975, two months after college graduation, Clark and a childhood friend had an idea to open a bar in the ground floor of a two story building next to Oklahoma State University. Clark used his life savings of $1,200 to help finance the venture. A freshman art student used a magic marker to sketch the now famous company logo on a large art pad.
They had the logo transferred to some t-shirts and opened for business selling ice-cold 10 cent draws and playing red-hot music on a pieced-together stereo. By the end of the first week end, the t-shirts featuring the company logo were sold out. Joe's soon had a loyal following and quickly became known as "Stillwater's Jumpin' Little Juke Joint."
In the fall of 1983, Oklahoma legislation increased the drinking age from 18-21, dramatically impacting Eskimo Joe’s target market. The company expanded to add food to the mix and extend their hours of operations. “What at first seemed to be life-threatening proved to be the greatest change we could ever imagine,” said Clark. "I was thrilled to find out that more people eat everyday than drink everyday!" He said, guests loved the juicy burgers known as the "Joe's Special," scrumptious chicken sandwiches known as "Fowl Things TM", thick old-fashioned shakes, and Cheese Fries that were actually endorsed by President Bush in 1990.
As Joe's popularity grew, so did Joe's annual birthday bash. By the 18th anniversary, 65,000 fun-loving Joe's fans packed Elm Street in Stillwater to celebrate the weekend reunion.
After selling hundreds of thousands of t-shirts over the bar inside Eskimo Joe’s from 1975 to 1987, Clark opened a free standing retail store next to the bar in September, 1987. They began direct marketing Joe’s Clothes via catalogs and Joe's toothy grin was sent all over the world. In November 1988, a Tulsa World newspaper article reported that the company’s t-shirts were one of the most collectible in the USA, second only to Hard Rock Cafe.
In 1985, Clark received a $500,000 SBA loan. The loan was used to consolidate many smaller loans. “This loan was certainly significant at the time,” said Clark. “Without the SBA guarantee, we’d likely not secured the financing at all.”
Today Eskimo Joe’s employs roughly 550 people, owns and operates three full-service bar/restaurants—Eskimo Joe’s, Mexico Joe’s and Joseppi’s Italian Kitchen. Clark also owns three retail clothing stores, all selling the Eskimo Joe’s branded products, Eskimo Joe’s Promotional Products Group, a promotional products distributor servicing companies and institutions across the Southwest, a real estate company, and a management company that provides strategic direction, accounting, graphics design, marketing and public relations.
“Eskimo Joe’s is all about fun,” said Clark. “Our mission is to make people smile as big as Eskimo Joe himself, to treat people so well they can’t believe it! And every time they visit us, hopefully they’ll leave with a smile they can wear on one of our T-shirts. Thankfully, since 1975, millions and millions have done both.”
Contact: Stan Clark, Owner
Address: 501 W. Elm
Stillwater, OK 74074
Phone: 405-880-2668 (cell)