Woolsey sells barbecue, hospitality at hole-in-wall restaurant

Minneapolis native is owner and founder of Scott Ja-Mama’s

Scott Woolsey holds up a press pass from the Gophers men’s basketball team’s 1997 Big Ten championship season. Memorabilia like the press pass adorns the wall at Woolsey’s Windom restaurant, Scott Ja-Mama’s. Photos by Nate Gotlieb
Scott Woolsey holds up a press pass from the Gophers men’s basketball team’s 1997 Big Ten championship season. Memorabilia like the press pass adorns the wall at Woolsey’s Windom restaurant, Scott Ja-Mama’s. Photos by Nate Gotlieb

Scott Woolsey loves the Twins. But he’s 0-for-16 in seeing a Twins win at Target Field.

“I haven’t seen them compete,” Woolsey said.

He also loves his mom’s barbecue sauce, so much so that he was inspired to open his own barbecue restaurant, Scott Ja-Mama’s, nearly 26 years ago.

Since 1991, Woolsey has served ribs, potatoes and slaw at his hole-in-the-wall restaurant at Nicollet & West Diamond Lake Road. He’s added chicken to the menu and dropped bratwurst and baked beans, after spilling an order of 200 on the floor.

A view of Scott Ja-Mama’s, a hole-in-the-wall barbecue restaurant at Nicollet & West Diamond Lake Road.
A view of Scott Ja-Mama’s, a hole-in-the-wall barbecue restaurant at Nicollet & West Diamond Lake Road.

That’s not to say he won’t go off menu. On a recent morning, Woolsey chopped chicken for a chicken salad and had a beef roast cooking in the oven. He anticipated there would be eager mouths to feed later.

“I know the customers like the different stuff,” he said.

Woolsey grew up nearby, on 46th & Clinton, one of three boys in a family with nine children. He drove a truck, worked construction, tended bar and was a union rep for the Teamsters before opening the restaurant.

“I quit every job I had after about four years,” he said. “I never in a million years thought I’d still be here today.”

The restaurant came from a suggestion of a friend of his dad’s. Woolsey had wanted to go into the sauce business, but the friend suggested he open a restaurant instead.

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It’s been a family affair since the beginning. His parents would clean the place on Friday and Saturday nights. His mom still comes in every day to help with the potatoes, mopping and laundry. His brother helps out too, as do nieces and nephews.

“She just amazes me, as old as she is and as hard as she goes every darn day,” Woolsey said of his mom, Dorie Woolsey, who soon will be 90.

The name, Scott Ja-Mama’s, goes back to Woolsey’s softball team, according to Dorie. Scott was always barbecuing for the team, she said, and they would always ask him if he had “Jamama’s” sauce. The name stuck.

The sauce came from an attempt to emulate the sauce at the Nicollet Hotel’s Waikiki Room, where Dorie’s husband and father-in-law had worked.

“They had the best darn sauce, but that cook would never give me his recipe,” she said. “… I knew I had arrived when somebody came in here one day and said, ‘I haven’t had sauce like this since the Waikiki Room.’”

Scott Woolsey and his mom, Dorie Woolsey, prepare coleslaw on a recent morning.
Scott Woolsey and his mom, Dorie Woolsey, prepare coleslaw on a recent morning.

Woolsey makes everything fresh every day, from barbecue sauce to his pork, beans and potatoes. There’s one grill and no deep-fat fryer, eliminating French fries as a potential offering.

His days start at 7:30 a.m. and go until about 8 or 9 p.m. The restaurant is open four days a week, Wednesday through Saturday, but Woolsey said he works six days a week.

“By Saturday night, I just want to go home,” he said.

He estimated he serves about 100 people daily. Friday and Saturday nights are his busiest time. Large orders and catering help sustain the business.

Woolsey’s been asked about expanding but isn’t interested.

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“I don’t want to be a waiter,” he said. “I don’t want to hear, ‘I dropped my fork’ and that kind of crap.”

The dining room is small, with just two tables and a handful of seats. The walls are filled with memorabilia, photos and trinkets that people have given him. Among them is included a customized Scott Ja-Mama’s Wilsons Leather jacket, a fox hat made by a Latvian customer and an oversized Big Bertha driver. There’s also a picture of former Twins equipment manager Ray Crump with The Beatles.

The Twins have a prominent place in the restaurant. Next to the menu sign above the counter, there’s a light-up sign that says “Let’s Go!” and has a Twins logo. There’s also a picture of the 1965 American League championship team and a baseball card poster of the 1987 World Series champions nearby.

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Woolsey’s love of baseball stems from his dad, a former townball player. It’s the only pro sport he likes, he said. The Vikings “broke my heart too many times,” he said. And he doesn’t seem to have forgiven the North Stars for leaving town for Dallas.

Woolsey, 61, plans on working until building owner Phil Nelson sells. Nelson has operated Phil’s Barber Shop next door for 49 years, although Woolsey expects it to eventually be knocked down for an apartment building

“It seems kind of like a forgone conclusion,” he said.

A lot of his work is monotonous, Woolsey said. But a favorite part is just talking with people.

“There’s people who their car pulls up and you know what they’re going to have,” he said. “I get a kick out of that.”

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  • Ann Hanna Walsh

    Wonderful food, wonderful family. A friend of mine stopped in and order a rack of ribs, saying she hadn’t had any since her husband had died several months before….When she went to pay, she discovered she did not have a blank check or enough cash. She asked them to continue cooking and she’d go home to get a check. They said, no, that’s okay. Just pay us next time you come by……..A week or two later, she stopped in to pay her bill. Scott, or Chris(?) said, Oh, your husband paid the bill the other day. She said, no, my husband is in heaven. The conclusion is that they have obviously trusted others to be honest. Speaks well of their upbringing

  • Jeannine Marie Wiltjer-Kelly

    Love, love, love this place! Scott is always so wonderful! My husband and I have been going for over 15 years. So worth it!

  • Michelle Pittman

    Just wish we didn’t live on the other side of the country from you all. Love it when someone comes to visit back there and brings us home your sauce!!!! Love you all

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