In The Kitchen – John “JJ” Niebuhr By: Kelsey Longo He came rushing out of the kitchen doors and quickly

shook hands with three different patrons in the establishment. By most measures, he was nondescript: a youngish man in a white chef apron, plain white t-shirt, and tousled hair. He stopped to talk to two more customers sitting at the bar before making his way to a table with a Guinness in hand. The tables, which are made from recycled wood from old bleachers cast out by the University of Hawai‘i, were all occupied with beers, pizzas, and happy patrons consuming the prior two. It was 3:15 p.m. on a Monday, the lull period for most businesses in the food and beverage industry. But at JJ Dolans, it would seem that this slow duration was nonexistent. For the next 53 minutes, each bar stool held a customer and every table was full. Most would not know it, but the man in the chef apron was the co-owner of this restaurant. John Niebuhr, known as “JJ” around the streets of Chinatown, chronicles the success of his business, JJ Dolans, on one simple concept: hot pizza and cold beer. Niebuhr, who gives himself the title as “Pizza Guy” on his business card, found his love for pizza back in Jersey City where he is originally from. “I was in the secondgrade and I went on a field trip to a local pizzeria,” Niebuhr said. “I was selected out of one boy and one girl in the second-grade class to go ahead and make a pizza, and I knew right then, at that moment, that I wanted to be in the pizza business.” Before beginning his working life in the downtown area, Niebuhr was making pizzas at Kemo‘o Farms in Schofield and spending his leisure time in Chinatown. “On Friday nights, I would finish up at Kemo‘o Farms at 4:30 p.m.,” Niebuhr said. “I would come down and be here (Chinatown) by 5:30 p.m. and bring the guys at Murphy’s a pizza and have a beer.” And that’s where it all jump-started for Niebuhr. Don Murphy, of Murphy’s Bar & Grill, made Niebuhr’s pizza deliveries a regular Friday night occasion. Then in 1997, Niebuhr jumped on board Murphy’s bartending team, and became a full-time bartender in 2001. “JJ had a knack for customer service and made a darn good pizza,” Murphy said. “Those pizzas definitely had a little Jersey flare to them and the people at the bar loved it.” Through Niebuhr’s regularity in the downtown area, both working and playing, he was able to build relationships with the right people. One of those key individuals is his current partner, Danny Dolan, who shared the same dream as Niebuhr in opening up an establishment that would fill a void in Chinatown. “In December of 2007, I got a phone call from Danny, who just left his bartending job at O’Toole’s, looking for something to do,” he said. “From there, we got together and put together a plan of what downtown needed.”

Built on the simple concept of the perfect marriage, pizza and beer, JJ Dolans opened its doors to Chinatown patrons in January of 2008. All the recipes are his own, which are an amalgamation of everything he leaned over the years of making pizzas. But it wasn’t an easy road for Niebuhr and Dolan. The two friends decided to launch their business right when the economy started to take its downturn. “We didn’t give up after three of the largest banks in Hawai‘i weren’t interested,” Niebuhr said. “But Hawai‘i National Bank stepped up because of a personal relationship we had built with someone there.” Now Niebuhr sat humbly at a tabletop with a Guinness in hand, always making time to welcome customers entering the doors and thanking those that leave. “People do definitely come for JJ’s amazing pizza recipes, but they also come for him,” partner Dolan said. “He’s such a fun, lovable guy.” Knowing that he would always end up in the pizza/bar industry, Niebuhr utilized his kokua network to put together a place that benefited the community. “It was Chinatown helping Chinatown,” he said. “Everyone knew that they wanted pizza, they wanted some cold beer, and they wanted a place they could go to.” Having been in Chinatown for the past 15 years, Niebuhr was able to foster the relationships that he made. “You’re able to be resilient when have a grouping and back bone of people behind you,” he said. “And Chinatown is the most resilient neighborhood in Hawai‘i; I feel so humble and so incredibly blessed.”

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