Ken and Larry Abdo are up to ‘Funny Business'
Brothers Larry and Ken Abdo have done plenty of business together. They've collaborated to run three food stands at the Renaissance Festival, selling pocket pies, dim sum, shrimp and king Creole at the booths for 12 years. They also rebuilt a quarter midget racecar together in the early 1970s and have teamed up on a few real estate ventures. Now they're getting together to bring “Funny Business” to Minneapolis.
Ken Abdo is a Downtown-based music law attorney who represents performers including Jonny Lang, Michelle Branch and Garrison Keillor. Larry Abdo is a Downtown developer who owns the Nicollet Island Inn and built Six Quebec, an office building on Marquette Avenue he converted to luxury condominiums.
The musical takes a behind-the-scenes look at stand-up comedy. Ken promised a friend he would take a look at the production two years ago and became interested in mounting the production in the Midwest.
The way Larry tells it, the decision to produce “Funny Business” in Minneapolis was a simple one.
“My brother Ken saw this play in L.A.,” Larry said. “He called me up and said ‘I just saw a play that I think has some good commercial value.' I said ‘Let's buy it.'”
Ken explained to Larry that you can't just buy a play, but after about one year, the Abdo brothers had secured the rights to produce the show in Minneapolis.
Ken, who also represents Triple Espresso at the Music Box Theatre, said he is adapting the “Funny Business” script to the Midwest and hopes the play will have a long run here.
“This is designed to stay on the Hennepin stages as long as it possibly can,” he said. “A play like this needs consistent tweaking to fit Minnesota's personality, and we're committed to do that until we get it just right.”
Living with Snoopy
The Abdos, a family with seven children, grew up in Charles Schulz' 1921 house near Minnehaha Creek in Southwest Minneapolis. The Abdos' parents bought the home from Schulz in the early 1960s, and Ken and his family continue to live there today.
“I was the last to leave the house,” Ken said. “I stayed in the community, married my high school sweetheart, lived in the neighborhood and later bought my parents' home.”
The Schulz family continues to pay an annual visit to the Abdos' childhood home. One of the children's rooms has two-foot drawings of Snoopy and Charlie Brown painted directly onto the wall by Schulz.
The Abdo brothers each found success through unique avenues of employment. Determined to become a professional musician, Ken said he was perhaps one of the first mobile DJs in the Twin Cities. He launched the Special Sounds company in 1974 to compensate for his struggling rock band.
“I had an epiphany in the '80s,” Ken said. “I realized I don't want to be the end user playing the slam dunk hit. I want to be at ground zero of the creative process.”
Ken said he broke into entertainment law by “paying a lot of dues.” He represented artists for next to nothing, shopped musicians' record deals so he could secure clients, and traveled extensively to meet potential customers.
He said networking is still an important chunk of his work, which keeps him in his office past 10 p.m. each night and sends him to the East and/or West Coast at least once per month.
“I pull more overnighters now than I did in college,” he commented.
Ken, who works at the same firm as his brother Robert Abdo, negotiates artists' contracts involving record deals, publishing deals, touring, merchandising and licensing. Glamorous events he calls the “wedding receptions” are essential to the business - appearances at the Grammys and various self-congratulatory award ceremonies are an integral part of the culture.
“It's a combination of what you know and who you know,” he said.
Ken's children comprise Abdomen, a family band for which Ken played the drums until his daughter Mari, now 16, took his slot.
Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, condo
Larry has taken on some singular projects as well. For 30 years, he has sold ice to vendors at the State Fair through the Gopher State Ice Co. He started and sold a string of businesses including the Walkin' Dog, a five-store Dairy Queen franchise and five Pocket Pie restaurants.
Larry is also behind the My Burger fast food franchise, which opened in the skyway level of Six Quebec in late 2004. He plans to expand My Burger into small Midwestern towns next summer. The summertime-only drive-up burger stand would feature a screened-in porch and represent a mobile version of the restaurant found in Six Quebec's skyway space.
Abdo said his development of Six Quebec was risky but successful in its position at the front of the condo construction curve.
“I got in early, not knowing there was a curve,” Larry said. “I sold all the condominiums, leased all the skyway space and leased all of the first-floor space.”
The condo development is named after a plane Larry used to travel across the Midwest while working at the ice company. The pilot's code name for the plane was Six Quebec.
Larry purchased the Nicollet Island Inn last year. He said he renovated the inn's 24 hotel rooms and expects to start remodeling the lobby and restaurant this fall.
He is also an advisory board member and lecturer at the Gigot School of Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Notre Dame.
“Funny Business” is currently playing through Nov. 5 on the Hennepin Stages Main Floor.
Larry said he and Ken have distinct contributions they bring to the partnership.
“He's younger than I am - he's more creative, and I am more of a risk-taker, and more seasoned in business,” Larry said. “We respect each other's talent.”
Ken echoed those comments.
“He brings a very sophisticated business entrepreneurial background with a focus on finances, back-office administration and practical approaches,” Ken said. “He leaves the creative stuff to me.”
Michelle Bruch can be reached at 436-4372 or [email protected].