Sunny’s Pizzeria owner bringing “neighborhood pub” to downtown Sioux Falls

Published: Feb. 27, 2023 at 8:18 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - It started, as many brilliant ideas do, with a couple of friends hanging out over beers.

A couple years ago, former Sioux Falls brewery manager Thomas Hentges was visiting his friend Jonathan Oppold at Oppold’s neighborhood eatery, Sunny’s Pizzeria in central Sioux Falls.

Both veterans of the local bar and restaurant scene, the two had a Eureka moment while shooting the breeze.

The topic: How the city’s bustling hub has plenty of high-end bars — which they both enjoy frequenting — to sip exotic and pricey cocktails. And, how there is no shortage trendy craft breweries — which they also love — nor bars-turned-clubs-after-dark where those who are college age (or trying to act college-aged) can sweat and dance the night away to eardrum-smashing beats.

But, they felt like there was little-to-nothing in-between, perhaps for “middle-aged” people who just want an “unassuming” and laid-back place to chill with an affordable domestic brew while some classic old tunes play on a juke box.

“We had talked about the fact that downtown, there’s not as many old school vintage kind of neighborhood bars, neighborhood pubs,” Oppold said.

“And, we always said, ‘Hey, you know, if there’s a chance to do something like this at some point, and the timing works out, we ought to go after it.’”

The bar was merely a cool thought until a couple months ago, when Oppold learned of a prime downtown space that would be up for grabs, and Hentges happened to be “in a position where I was looking for something new.”

And so, on Wednesday, The Orion Pub will move into the old Bonus Round Bar space on 10th Street between Philips Avenue and Main Avenue.

Their dream will come true when it opens, which should be “by June,” Oppold said. In a booklet full of visions for the pub, The Orion Club is described as “a far out downtown destination.”

“It’s terribly exciting,” Hentges told Dakota News Now at Sunny’s on Monday, his eyes popping and his grin shining between a black Harley Davidson stocking cap and thick black beard.

“We’ve been waiting to get to where we’re at right now, but now we’re at actually at the real beginning. It’s been kind of a waiting game and now it gets real exciting.”

Yes, Oppold hopes to serve Sunny’s pizza and other food beyond pub snacks there. He is currently awaiting the city to allow that to happen.

But he already knows what kind of beer will be on tap, and already has traveled all over the region and stocked up on the furnishings that he believes will set the pub apart in downtown — its tables and stools, wall decorations, neon signs, coasters, and match boxes.

“We’re going to have retro finishes,” Oppold said. “We’re going to have retro beers on tap, like Hamm’s and Pabst Blue Ribbon. We’re looking for an old school juke box. Anything we can do to make it feel like an old-timey neighborhood pub.”

Hentges describes his vision of the space as “kind of a throwback to a bar that you see in the 1970′s in South Dakota — lots of wood panel and taxidermy things like that.”

They plan on The Orion Pub being a go-to downtown spot when local and regional sports teams are on TV.

“There’s not a lot of places downtown to watch sports,” Oppold said. “We’re going to have Vikings games on with the sound on so you can hear it.”

But it’s the way the owners want to make patrons feel that is at the heart of their dream bar.

Hentges grew up in Madison and loves spending his summer free time driving his Harley Davidson motorcycle through South Dakota’s backroads and bellying up at small town bars.

“You always walk into those places and feel welcome and feel like you’re home, and we want to create that in downtown Sioux Falls,” Hentges said.

“What we’re trying to do is take that idea of a rural gathering place. You get into a small town, and a lot of times the bar is the gathering place for the town. We want to create that feel in downtown Sioux Falls.”

Oppold considers Sunny’s a “neighborhood restaurant” and wants to replicate that feel downtown.

This means the owners want people to be able to feel like they can come into The Orion Pub after work in their work clothes — no matter their profession — and feel comfortable.

”We want to really create an environment where people can put aside the politics and religion that seem to divide us,” Hentges said. “I want to cultivate a hub where people can leave that at the door and just enjoy each other’s company again.”

Oppold, dressed Monday in an orange-and-brown flannel-patterned hoodie that will blend in nicely with The Orion Pub’s aura, called the intended atmosphere “almost kind of like a Cheers-y type of thing where, you go in, the regulars all know each other, they know you. We just want it to be a real unassuming place where anybody and everybody is welcome.”

The capacity of The Orion Pub will be about 49 people, Oppold said. An actual juke box — you know, where you put in coins and push manual buttons, as pages manually flip to selections of honky tonk and classic rock songs, which will be played off of those antiquated devices called compact discs — will be a part of the joint’s sound.

So will the broadcasts of Vikings, Twins, Timberwolves, and Wild games, when they’re on.

But what about live music? Hentges has been a part of the local scene for over a decade and is the lead singer/songwriter of the band Burlap Wolf King, which was once described by a local writer as an “Americana sound, rooted in folk and blues, with Hentges’ soulful baritone at the forefront.”

“I want to highlight some performances in our space, but they’ll be very high quality,” Hentges said. “I don’t want to have music just in the background. I’d rather it be more of a focus. So, we maybe will tend to do some private, ticketed events, but then we’ll also have some live music, DJ’s, from time-to-time, come in and do their thing, and will be open to the public.”

The bigger picture is this will be the bar Hentges always wanted to work in and run.

“I look forward to creating a community,” Hentges said. “That’s my... I’ve made jokes with Jon that I want to die in the bar. I want to create an environment where all people feel welcome, and to come as you are.”

His days at Miner Brewing in the near-downtown railroad district ended when it shut down last October. He had managed the floor there for eight years, until the very final day.

After that kind of longevity in one space — and the relationships with customers and co-workers that forged in it — the closing left Hentges wondering if he’d ever want to get back into the bar business. But when this prime real estate and his shared vision with Oppold became a reality, “there’s something to be said for doing it yourself, and that was very, very appealing.”

Hentges has also put in years in customer service at Sid’s Liquor and Last Stop CD Shop, and he will be the day-to-day manager of The Orion Pub.

Oppold will still own and manage Sunny’s while being the “creative guy” for The Orion Pub.

“I have always wanted to own a pub,” Oppold said. “It’s funny, being the pizza guy and owning a pizza place, I never thought I’d be the guy that owns a restaurant, you know? I’ve always kind of wanted to own a sports bar or something, like when I grew up. Being in my 20′s and stuff, we’d go to places and be like, man, it would be fun to own one of these one day.”

Oppold has a degree in organizational management from Wayne State University in Nebraska. His background before founding Sunny’s includes managing Cheap Shots sports bar in Tea, working as a cook at all kinds of restaurants in his teenage and college years, and being a salesman and marketer for local radio stations, the Sioux Falls Canaries, Sanford Profile, and his own local sports magazine.

In short time, he’s made waves in the local business community with quirky marketing of his pizzeria, named after his French bulldog. Sunny’s won a sanctioned “blind taste test” competition among other local pizza operations, and organized a high-profile contest to that led to the painting a mural that beautified the exterior of its building while honoring 21 luminaries that have formed the city’s culture — The “Sioux Falls Wall of Notability.”

Over the past 18 months, Oppold has expanded the Sunny’s umbrella by providing Sunny’s pizzas for places like 81 Arcade, Glacial Lakes Distillery, and Lupulin Brewing to bake for customers.

Some wondered if opening a second Sunny’s Pizzeria would be Oppold’s next major move, including Oppold. But he believes this is the right next step.

“I kind of like (Sunny’s) being 1 of 1, you know,” Oppold said. “And, I always wanted to do something like this, so it’s a good opportunity for me, and especially for my business partner. I mean, I know he’s wanted to do this. This is, like, his dream.

“After doing that with Sunny’s, and opening something myself, and realizing a dream of mine and making it come true, it’s kind of fun to be along for the ride with a guy that’s feeling the same emotions now, and going through it, and the excitement. And yeah, it’s just, it’s awesome.”