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Former boxer, firefighter opens new restaurant in Coliseum Sports Bar

Former professional boxer, St. Paul firefighter, home remodeler, hobby farmer, Prescott restaurant owner/ manager, Hastings resident for several years. All these fit the newest Hastings restaurant manager, Gary Holmgren.

This week, he talks about them all and his newest venture, this one in Hastings at the Coliseum Sports Bar and Grill. He has leased the restaurant of the Vermillion Street bar from Bob Zetwick, renamed it "Hammer's Barbecue Shack," added his favorite foods, and is determined to make it a favorite stop for people.

"Isn't it interesting I used to box, and here I am back in a coliseum," said Holmgren, pointing to a number of newspaper articles about him when he was a professional boxer in the late 1970s.

He is very appreciative to Zetwick, Vermillion State Bank president John Poepl and Ed and Matt Bifulk for their help in getting this restaurant under way.

Boxing became a way for him to survive growing up in St. Paul's Selby/Dale area. When his parents separated, Holmgren lived with his father, but was often in foster homes. He joined the Golden Glove program and was very familiar with the downtown area. He shined shoes and worked at a newsstand.

He was kicked out of high school after a fight at a bus station. He struck the man, who fell to the floor. He later died. Holmgren was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, but school was no longer an option, so he joined the Army.

He continued his boxing, becoming a professional welterweight. That career lasted 12 years. He also was a member of the St. Paul Fire Department for 23 years. When he retired from the department, he had achieved the rank of captain. He had his own home remodeling business and operated a hobby farm in Woodbury for a period of time.

It was while he was with the fire department that he began to develop his cooking skills, but when he and his former wife Kim bought the restaurant (now Muddy Waters) in Prescott, he admitted he was a novice.

"I knew nothing about the restaurant business," he said. He learned quickly, and relied on the good help and advice from others who were in the business.

"I've always had two or three jobs at a time," he said. "So this wasn't new."

He loves the restaurant business.

"I liked the clanging of the coffee cups, the silverware," said Holmgren. "and there is always good food in mine."

One of the favorites, now specialty items at his restaurant are St. Louis honey-baked ribs. They are the best, he assures everyone. Another specialty is pan-fried walleye. Again, Holmgren recommends it.

"There are three keys to a restaurant success," said Holmgren. "One is location; I already have that.

"The second is awesome food and the third is service," he said. "I know how to bring it together."

Hammer's (a nickname from his boxing days) Barbecue Shack will be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, beginning Monday, July 26, offering full menu, specials every day. Bar hours are longer.

"I just love this city; I just want to give back," said Holmgren. "Let us knock you out with our food."