Written by The Business Journal Staff
James O’Donnell, Co-Owner
Kocky’s Bar and Grill
What we do:
Kocky’s Bar and Grill is located in the heart of downtown where we offer quality American Cuisine food items and a wide variety of mixed cocktails and craft beers. We also host Monday night football, live music on Friday nights and other special events on occasion.
I graduated from Oakland High School in 2004, and then attended Fresno State where I wrestled and studied business. I graduated with a business marketing degree in 2009, and also had the chance to study business abroad at Regents University in London, England.
I come from a really large family. I am the oldest of 14 children. Most of my family lives in Oakland, but I have a couple of brothers and sisters who have moved to Fresno, and I also have a 5-year-old son. Hopefully, at some point the rest of my family moves to the Valley.
What’s the story behind Kocky’s Bar and Grill, James?
My business partner and I decided to open a business together after having great success in the party promotion business. After brainstorming, we came up with the name “Kocky’s,” which was inspired by our fraternity, which has a repetition for having very cocky and confident members of its organization. We put together a business plan and decided that downtown was an untapped market with tons of potential. From there, we pursued opening a restaurant in hopes of creating a “Cheers” kind of environment for the downtown community.
How has business been, James?
Business has been well. Parking is really difficult downtown, and we have found that parking has been one of many huge challenges we have encountered. But downtown has seen a lot of growth over the past four years we have been open, and with growth came more and more business.
What’s the secret behind Kocky’s chicken wings, James?
I think that aside from the fact that all our 12 signature sauces are homemade, our flour recipe makes our wings delicious without any sauce on them. Often times you’ll find restaurants use sauce to cover up mediocre meats, but when both the meat and sauce is delicious, you have a great product!
What are your feelings about the restoration of Fulton Mall into a street, James?
I think it will be great for downtown. People love positive change and it’s about time to see some new things downtown. Opening up the Fulton mall will attract new business and new customers. Once we resolve the parking issue, I believe downtown will become the prominent fun place it once was years ago. It’s taking small steps like that that creates the big picture.
How would you characterize the night scene downtown, James?
I wouldn’t say it has much character at all just yet. It’s kinda like a newborn baby, you see it and you know it will develop characteristics, but you don’t know what they will be just yet. With exception to “Art Hop” and some of the events Peeve’s Public House puts on, there isn’t much going on after 5 p.m. downtown. I do see that changing over the next couple of years though. More and more people have been peeping their heads in to see what’s going on downtown. But as of now most of the people who are out after hours downtown are just the business owners, employees and loft communities.
What’s the biggest challenge in running a restaurant, James?
In my experience, there isn’t one specific challenge that stands out more than the others. Being able to adapt and make adjustments expeditiously is very important. The restaurant business is a very sensitive one. Food quality, customer service and everything else that goes in to serving people food and drinks has to be watched and monitored all the time in order to maintain a good establishment. Any restaurant that can master that will do just fine.
Where do you see Kocky’s five years from now, James?
I am hoping to see two Kocky’s locations five years from now. It’s taken some years for Michael and me to fine-tune our systems and menu, but I think we are well on our way of positioning ourselves to open a second location.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
The best advice I’ve ever received is simple and everyone I encounter tells me it. And that is to never give up. Myles Monroe once said, “The wealthiest place on earth is the cemetery. There lies buried the greatest treasure of untapped potential.” I think it’s important that everyone go after their dreams and never even consider the possibility of failing. If it’s what makes you happy, it’s worth the risk.
What was your very first job, James?
I got my first job when I was 14-years-old. I worked for the City of Oakland working on the city stable. It was a great opportunity for me and the other youth that worked there. Oakland is a city that has really been terribly affected by poverty. Giving its youth the opportunity to earn our own money really gave me a sense of responsibility. It also made me value money and believe in the idea that hard work pays off. It is a concept that we should all learn as early in life as we can.
What do you like to do in your spare time, James?
I really enjoy time with my son and family. I try to hang out with them as much as I can. I also love to read business books. I have read over 30 this year. I learn a few very important business lessons from each book. Reading books is like paying $10 or $15 to pick the brains of some of the world’s greatest business people. Not a bad investment if you ask me.