Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Tale of “Tooze” in the Twin Cities

As a child nicknamed “Tooze” by his father,  John E. Rogers, a poor Illinois farm boy, came to the Twin Cities of Minnesota to work in menial jobs but over time rose to be the owner of liquor stores, saloons, restaurants, hotels and other enterprises in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and beyond.   Known for his philanthropy, Tooze embodied the American “rags to riches” life story, one with a heart.

The tale of Rogers/Tooze has been recounted very well by Ron Feldhaus in his book,  “The Bottles, Breweriana and Advertising Jugs of Minnesota. 1850-1920.”  Rather than recast the story in other words, I am reprinting here excerpts
Mint Saloon far right
from Ron’s book to provide a picture of this extraordinary whiskey man’s life and character, as well provide some of his singular views on managing a business, running a saloon, and drinking alcohol:

Tooze’s business career was one without parallel in the commercial life of Minneapolis....He came to the Twin Cities at the age of 18 and worked at such jobs as waiter at the Nicollet Hotel and bell boy at the St. Louis Hotel until he started his first saloon, the Mint, on Washington Ave No. with a capital of just $225.  In 1896, at age of 27, he opened the Tooze Wine Co. at 301 S. 3rd.

At his death he owned the Rogers Hotel and Cafe, 25-29 So. 4th, the Unique Theater, 520 Hennepin Ave., the Empress Theater on Wabasha in St. Paul,  a delicatessen and restaurant, 516-518 Hennepin, the Chamber of Commerce Cafe at 4th,  extensive property in northern Minnesota, Mexico mining property and a chicken ranch at Mound....In between he had owned seven other saloons and restaurants.

His Midas touch was admired and respected by all, and his saloons, restaurants and hotel were considered models of perfection in every way.  He once said:  “Work is my play, my relaxation is auto rides where we usually talk business.   That’s far more interesting than anything else.  I have 11 different enterprises on my hands and manage them all just as I did my 7 saloons,  simply by being systematic.  When I start a business I spend every minute at it working constantly.  In a restaurant this would include how many servings 
per pound of every given meat and vegetable, how much it costs to operate the range per hour, so by the time the food reaches the customer, I know to the penny what the profit on each item is....”

“Once a week I meet with my employees, talk with them briefly and ask for suggestions, then use all the good ones.  I want them to think of their enterprise as an automobile, they are the chauffeurs.  I cannot tolerate lack of ambition in my employees.  I know what can be done.  I hope that I train them well enough and hire them with enough ambition so that someday they run me competition.  I also believe in sharing profits.”

Not only did Tooze have the Midas touch with money, but with people.  He drew friends like a magnet, and people valued his friendship for its sincerity and candidness.  He practiced love, never preached it, always had time for chat, for Tooze never forgot his early poverty nor the helping hands he got
along the way.  To charitable things he gave generously of both his time and money....Many times he heard of someone who was destitute and helped them back on their feet....If that person needed hospitalization, Tooze would personally take him there, visit him, pay his bills both at the hospital and at home, then help find the man employment when h was able to work again.  He truly believed and followed his business motto”  “He best serves himself when he best serves others.”

Every Thanksgiving while he owned the Rogers Hotel and Cafe he invited all the newsboys of the city there for dinner.   There they dined in the elegantly decorated rooms and were the most important guests of the day.  He would walk among them complimenting them, giving words of encouragement, calling many of them by name for he had a fabulous memory for names and faces....

He loved children though he had none of his own and spent about $5,000 a year on them.  At the Unique Theater he annually gave free performances.  The lobby would be heaped with thousands of bags of candy to be given away.  He also was very active in the Boys Club and sponsored a baseball team for 10 years.

Tooze had very definite ideas on liquor, the liquor business and saloons, some quite unorthodox for men in his profession.  To quote him:  “When I started my first saloon I knew there were many dangers about it but I believe it could be run right.   I have neither allowed myself to be influenced adversely by it or conducted it in a way to bring discredit.  I simply put before the people that which they want, and serve them honestly.  Any employee serving liquor to an intoxicated man meets with instant dismissal....A ban is put on serving any man who is using money to drink that is needed by his family....”

“I stopped drinking 26 years ago.   My advice to any man would be not to drink....I think if all people had to sit down to drink and all saloons served food there would be less intoxication The worst, most ridiculous thing, was when the temperance extremists got the city council of Minneapolis to prohibit the free lunches.   The saloon keepers had wanted them abolished because they were expensive and kept people from drinking.  They couldn’t get it passed but the temperance cranks did it for them,  thus promoting intemperance.”

John E. Rogers died of shock following a five hour operation for intestinal adhesions.  He was awake throughout the majority of the operation and in his own inimitable fashion was instructing the many doctors.  He had been ill for just a few days.  Although he knew his time had come, he was calm and relaxed until the end....

By request of the thousands of his friends his body was laid in state so that they all might say their last goodbyes.  Funeral services were private with fellow Elks acting as pallbearers.  From the time he owned the Unique Theater he had had church services held there each Sunday morning for people who would not or could not ordinarily get to church.  The Sunday following his funeral a memorial service was held there for him.  Not another person could be crowded into the theater and there were about 500 left outside so a second service was held.

To this stirring story of John E. “Tooze” Rogers I can only add a note pointing to the double “Z’s” to be found on many illustrations here, including the Tooze liquor bottles, drinking mug, bar token and hotel ashtray.   Rogers clearly wanted the public to sound out and remember the highly unusual nickname given to him by his father many years earlier.

Postscript:  In November 2015, Kent Saunders, who has his own Google blog, sent me the photo below of the Tooze-sponsored baseball team, together with a story about the team from Spaulding's Amateur Base Ball Year Book of 1905.  According to Spaulding:  "This club has steadily been composed of Minneapolis players, who have met and defeated the best teams in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and who have been willing at all times to defend the title of champions of the Twin Cities, which they have claimed."  My thanks to Kent for this interesting pieces of "Tooziana."


  1. I have a photo of what appears to be the Toozes Baseball team from early in the 1900s. It was taken at the Miller studio. It measures 21X17 in what appears to be the original frame.
    Any ideas as to where I can go to find more about this baseball team?


  2. Kent: What a great find! If you scan or take a picture of the photo, I would be delighted to have it electronically. Might be able to add it to the post, giving you credit, of course. My advice on finding more about the team is to call the historical section of the Minneapolis Public Library. They may have more info to provide to you. All the best. Jack

  3. Jack,
    here is a link to my Google+ page where I shared the picture.


  4. Dear Keith: Thanks for the link to the Tooze baseball team and the newspaper article. It is an interesting adjunct to the Tooze story.

    1. It's Kent, but I'm used to being called something else.

      No worries.