SIOUX CITY -- Don’t let the Chelsea Football Club soccer shirt fool you, Gannon Harsma is busily prepping for Sunday’s Super Bowl LII.
However, the Sioux City man is unlikely to see the New England Patriots battling the Los Angeles Rams in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Instead, general manager Harsma will be in the kitchen at Bootleggers, making custom gourmet pizzas at downtown Sioux City’s newest restaurant.
Opened more than a month ago at 419 Pearl St. (the former home of The Big Snug), Bootleggers will officially expand to its operation at 423 Pearl St. (the former home of McCarthy & Bailey’s Irish Pub) on football’s biggest day.
Which, surprisingly, doesn’t faze Harsma, a former Denver-based coach for the Colorado Hawks boys Soccer Club team.
“I’m not afraid of the pressure,” he said with confidence. “Plus I have a good team behind me.”
That team includes his mom Lori and dad Don, a veteran entrepreneur who was, most recently, the franchise holder of South Sioux City’s Boss’ Pizza.
“Dad wanted his very own restaurant and this location was just too good to pass up,” Harsma explained.
The structure, which dates back to 1917, was one of a series of run-down buildings in the 400 and 500 block of Pearl Street that was refurbished by Sioux City businessman and developer Rick Bertrand.
Originally opened in 2011, the Irish pub-themed McCarthy & Bailey’s boasted an eclectic menu of Gaelic foods and Emerald Isle drinks in a space dominated by a century-old mahogany bar, rescued from an ancient pub, north of Dublin as well as stained glass and cobblestone that was similar shipped in from Ireland.
Despite initial success, McCarthy & Bailey’s closed in October 2018 after new owners Doug and Mark Kwikkel cited sales volume that fell short of expectation.
“We gave it our all (and) we tried our hardest,” Doug Kwikkel, who also owns Decatur, Neb.’s Pop-N-Docs, said at the time. “I’m looking at a pretty big hole that I’m going to have to pay back a bank for operating expenses.”
Harsma acknowledged the risk of opening a new restaurant but prefers to concentrate on the positive.
Specifically, Harsma touted the décor (“You can tell (Bertrand) spared no expenses,” he said) plus a theme that is perfect for Sioux City.
“You don’t purchase a 100-year-old building without playing up its history,” he explained. “Bootleggers will transport the diner to the days of the Prohibition. Even our servers will look like they’ve stepped out of the 1920s.”
This will include some unique period-specific drink specials. Despite that, Harsma promises Bootleggers pizzas will be modern with a twist.
A cook who has worked everywhere from pizzerias to casinos, from dining establishments to food trucks, Harsma loves creating signature pizzas.
“Pizzas are a blank canvas,” he said. “They’re perfect for experimentation.”
So, what are Bootleggers' food scientists conjuring up? Well, a unique take on a South-of-the-Border pie, for instance.
Their Real Taco pizza is made with a ranch base, mozzarella cheese and Philly cheesesteak that’s been sautéed with plenty of onions, lemons and lime juice.
“This isn’t your typical taco pizza,” Harsma said with a smile. “It is an elevated version of the pizza you get at other places.”
Perhaps, the most unusual pie is Bootleggers' Tequila Sunrise.
Made with diced chicken, sautéed banana peppers, onions and tequila-soaked jalapeno, this is the sort of pizza that will generate buzz, day or night.
Which is exactly what Harsma will take away from Bootleggers.
“We take our food seriously but not ourselves,” he said. “We have pizzas that are priced right for families but our décor is perfect for a night out on the town.”
In other words, walking into Bootleggers is like walking into a pizzeria of another era. Um, except with more up-to-date pie, of course.
“Downtown Sioux City needs a pizzeria,” Harsma said. “Bootleggers will be filling that niche.”