Jon Jacklin once joked that upon his death, he wished to lie in state atop Table 23.
Where? At Smack Shack, of course, where Jacklin was as much a fixture as the signature lobster rolls. His sassy humor and larger-than-life personality charmed guests and staff who came into the orbit of the Minneapolis North Loop restaurant’s omnipresent director of operations — a man who never seemed to take a day off.
Then, without warning, he was gone. Jacklin, 47, died suddenly of an aneurysm on Feb. 3 while relaxing at home.
The Appleton, Wis.-native ran the restaurant since it opened in 2013. He could be a tough boss (one of his catchphrases was, “You’re doing it wrong”) but developed a loyal following among his staff.
“He really treated us all like a family and wanted everybody to get along,” said server Tasha Terry, one of about a dozen staffers who have been there since the opening — a rarity in the industry.
And he made people feel at home, whether he was tossing out crab hats to crowds at the annual Crayfest celebration or just greeting guests.
“He was captivating because he wasn’t always prim and proper. He was sassy and he just was very unique in the way he would hold himself,” said television host Jason Matheson, a regular whose husband does marketing for the restaurant. “You could see how he was kind of the maestro of that place. And it was fascinating to watch.”
Jacklin’s days often began at 10 a.m. and extended through the dinner rush, said his brother, Brian Jacklin. After the daily grind, rather than a shot of liquor, he was known to knock back a shot of Kim Crawford wine. It was his favorite — his cats’ names are Kimmy and Crawford. But work was never far from his mind.
“We could be laughing about something completely ridiculous and at the very same time he would look over to my friend Jen and say, ‘I think we need to order 100 more [crab] hats,’ ” Matheson said.
Jacklin previously managed events at the now-shuttered Hennepin Avenue restaurant Solera. It was there he met Josh Thoma, Solera’s co-owner, who would later bring him on to help transform Smack Shack from a food truck into a brick-and-mortar restaurant as general manager.
“He had a natural leadership ability,” Thoma said. “Standing in front of a team of employees, he just commanded attention. He had a gift that I certainly don’t have. And that I don’t see very often.”
Smack Shack co-founder Kevin Fitzgerald said Jacklin was at the restaurant 70 to 80 hours a week.
“The restaurant was his life,” Fitzgerald said. “You have to be strong, but more than anything you have to be a people person.”
Jacklin got his start working at country club events near his hometown. His brother said he moved to Minneapolis about 12 years ago.
“He really found his niche there in Minneapolis,” said Brian Jacklin, also of Minneapolis. “It’s the struggle of a gay man growing up in small-town Wisconsin, and then moving over to a city that is much more embracing and open.”
In addition to his brother, Jacklin is survived by his father, Michael Jacklin, and sisters Stefanie Jacklin, Ellyn Jacklin Brown and Megan Jacklin, all of Appleton. Services have been held, but the Smack Shack will close to the public Sunday for its own memorial.
There will be buttons featuring Jacklin’s catchphrases, like “What are the challenges?” and “It’s just food and beverage, people.” The Kim Crawford will be plentiful.
And, Thoma said, there will be a makeshift casket on Table 23.