Barbecue restaurant stays in the family

Frank Woolsey (left) and Joe Kenney have taken over management of the Windom barbecue restaurant Scott Ja-Mama’s
Frank Woolsey (left) and Joe Kenney have taken over management of the Windom barbecue restaurant Scott Ja-Mama’s, which their uncle Scott Woolsey founded in 1991. Photos by Nate Gotlieb

Scott Ja-Mama’s, the longtime barbecue restaurant at Diamond Lake Road & Nicollet Avenue, is under new management.

Joe Kenney and Frank Woolsey have taken over from their uncle Scott Woolsey, who founded the restaurant in 1991. They haven’t purchased the business from him, Frank Woolsey said, but their goal is to make it a long-term venture.

Scott Woolsey, a Minneapolis native, founded Scott Ja-Mama’s after mulling a run in the barbecue sauce business. His barbecue sauce comes from a recipe created by his mother, Dorie, who had tried to emulate the sauce made at the former Downtown Minneapolis Nicollet Hotel, where her husband and father-in-law worked.

For nearly three decades, Scott Woolsey manned the kitchen and counter at Scott Ja-Mama’s, cooking his meats, beans and potatoes from scratch each morning, with help from a bevy of family members. Frank Woolsey, who previously managed a restaurant in Eagan, said his uncle approached him and Kenney about taking over as he prepared to retire.

“We just didn’t want to see it just be left and shut down, so we decided to keep it going,” he said.

Frank and Joe renovated the restaurant this past spring, after Scott retired in February, and they reopened in April.

Joe Kenney prepares to-go boxes inside the kitchen of Scott Ja-Mama’s
Joe Kenney prepares to-go boxes inside the kitchen of Scott Ja-Mama’s, the barbecue restaurant he runs with his cousin Frank Woolsey.

The restaurant’s hours and menu have remained the same, though Frank and Joe said they try to make sure side dishes like beans and potato salad are available at all times, which wasn’t always the case when Scott was in charge. They’ve also kept the walls lined with photos and sports memorabilia, though they said they’ve taken down a significant number of items from when Scott was there.

There have been some small changes. The walls have a fresh coat of paint, the ceiling has been renovated and a new menu sign hangs on the wall behind the counter. There’s also a new iPad above the cash box, which allows Frank and Joe to take credit cards, something Scott never did.

The restaurant remains a family affair, with Frank and Joe’s relatives helping with the cooking, cleaning and deliveries. Joe said they’d eventually like to move to a bigger space, though they don’t have any plans yet. Frank said another step could be bottling and selling their barbecue sauce.

Scott Woolsey still comes by, too, they said.

Take-out orders make up about 90% of their business, Joe estimated, and Friday and Saturday nights are typically their busiest times. On a busy day, Joe estimated they serve over 100 meals.

Frank Woolsey said there hasn’t been too much that’s surprised him about the new gig. The most fun thing about it? “Running the show,” he said.

Scott Ja-Mama’s is open 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Wednesday–Friday and noon–9 p.m. Saturday. Kenney and Woolsey also cater. Customers can order from the restaurant through Uber Eats.

Scott Ja-Mama’s

3 W. Diamond Lake Road