Restaurateur Sheldon Jacobs aimed high

  • Article by: BEN COHEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 1, 2008 - 9:04 PM

The founder of Shelly's Woodroast restaurants, who discovered singer Al Jarreau, had "huge zest for life."

Sheldon Jacobs, the former CEO of Shelly's Woodroast restaurants, reached for the stars, whether managing an up-and-coming Al Jarreau, or creating a fine dining experience in a Northwoods lodge atmosphere. He died unexpectedly July 27 at his Medina home.

He was 63.

"He was a great restaurateur," said his brother, Irwin Jacobs of Wayzata, chairman and CEO of Genmar in Minneapolis. "He had a flair for taste."

During the 1990s, Jacobs owned several Shelly's Woodroast restaurants in the Twin Cities and Shelly's Back Room restaurants in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Cost was no object, and style was everything to Jacobs. And that contributed to the restaurant chain's eventual demise, said his brother.

Jacobs was a 1962 North High School graduate, and joined the Marine Reserves in the 1960s. He attended the University of Minnesota for two years.

He worked in a family business in San Francisco for a short stint, but in the 1970s he became acquainted with Jarreau, then an unknown jazz singer.

"He discovered him" and became his manager for a few years, said his brother. That work "gave him a lot of satisfaction."

When a studio signed Jarreau, Jacobs was out of the picture.

Later he found that the restaurant business suited him well.

"He had a huge zest for life," said his niece, Lisa Mottla of Edina. "He loved preparing food, eating and fine clothes."

In recent years, he owned and operated Louie's Habit, a deli in Wayzata.

"He always had a huge smile, and made his customers feel so welcome," said his niece.

Jacobs' longtime friend, Lyle Berman, chairman and CEO of Lakes Entertainment in Minnetonka, said he was a "unique" individual.

"He had very high standards for himself and the food he served," said Berman.

"Everything had to be the best," added Berman, noting that in taste tests, his pastrami and corn beef sandwiches beat entrants from the Carnegie Deli in New York.

In addition to his brother, Jacobs is survived by his sisters, Elaine Yablonsky of Medina and Sharon Milavitz of Golden Valley, and many nieces and nephews.

Services have been held.

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