Jean Kay’s closing, but still plenty of time to order signature pasties

Brian Harsch, owner of the Marquette landmark Jean Kay’s Pasties, shows a batch of pasties, the store’s specialty. Harsch is retiring at the end of the year. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

MARQUETTE — Brian Harsch, owner of the popular and longtime restaurant food staple Jean Kay’s Pasties & Subs in north Marquette, plans to retire soon. However, he stressed that patrons shouldn’t hurry and buy a huge supply of pasties just yet.

His last day isn’t until Dec. 31.

“People don’t need to panic,” Harsch said.

The high demand for pasties he has seen since word got out he was retiring could be a good problem to have, and is one he plans to tackle.

“You got time,” is Harsch’s message to future customers. “They don’t have to do the toilet paper like we did for the COVID thing. They can take their time. They can come in on a weekly basis. We’re going to be here for awhile.”

However, he doesn’t expect another pasty shop to move in at 1635 Presque Isle Ave. In the if-you-want-it-right-do-it-yourself vein, Harsch said a previous attempt to have another such business take its place failed when he retired in 2001.

He returned in 2008.

“I have to live in this community, and the problem is, everywhere I went, all I heard is what a lousy job they were doing,” Harsch said.

The pasty shop is named after his mother, Jean Kay Harsch, although it was started as a family operation in Iron Mountain in 1975. The Marquette location opened in 1979.

The business, though, owes Jean Kay Harsch a lot more than its moniker.

“The crust is kind of what she brought to the table,” Harsch said. “The filling is a real Cornish-style pasty.”

What has drawn people to Jean Kay’s Pasties & Subs over the years?

“Obviously, good food, right?” Harsch said. “A good pasty, right? I think fair pricing, and we’re able to handle things. It’s a very good set-up.”

It also helps that Harsch offers employees $18 an hour to start, although he acknowledged they work hard for that wage.

Fortunately, his current employees — including those who have worked for him for 25 to 30 years — have found jobs elsewhere to sustain them after Jean Kay’s closes.

“It’s a positive move for everybody,” Harsch said. “It’s time to reconnect and go.”

Harsch recalled his “lean years” in Marquette when “13 people” were making pasties.

“I was not in people’s sights,” he said.

In fact, Harsch was told he wouldn’t make it in Marquette since “every business” that comes to town fails.

“Well, we made it, and I think that we made it because people believed in us — and lots of hard work,” Harsch said. “We’re open every day of the week. We close four days of the year. We’re there for the public.”

Jean Kay’s also stays open until 9 p.m., longer than other businesses in the area.

He’s a firm believer that a merchant has to take some responsibility.

“There’s no reason you have to wait five hours to eat,” Harsch said. “We don’t do that here. We’re banging them out as fast as you come in.”

The high starting pay helps.

“I try to compensate these people as much as I can because it’s important,” he said. “I work every day. That allows me to pay higher wages because I come to work every day. I’m worth two people, if you think about it.”

Harsch, 66, who lives in Marquette, owns the building as well as “half the block” along Presque Isle Avenue.

The work ethic probably will come in handy after Harsch closes Jean Kay’s since he manages many rentals.

“I’ve got houses to take care of,” he said. “I’ve been a landlord since 1987, so I’ll be mowing my own lawns and cleaning my own houses. Before, I used to hire that all out, so I’ll have the time to do that, and I’m looking forward to that.”

The pasties at Jean Kay’s come with or without rutabaga, but it also offers sandwiches, baked goods and potato salad with bacon among other menu items.

Still, the pasties are the specialty.

“I’m going to get the traditional,” one man said to his dining partner on Tuesday afternoon. “What are you going to get?”

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.


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