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Your Guides to Excellent Writing

If you want to connect with people, write with heart

by Stephen Wilbers

Author of 1,000 columns
published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune & elsewhere

Also see the power of storytelling.
 

 

 

I was moved by Jon Tevlin’s June 15, 2017, column in the Star Tribune about Joe Minjares, owner of Pepitos Restaurant in South Minneapolis. Minjares is struggling with the effects of pulmonary fibrosis.

 

Nearly 16 years ago I wrote my own column about Minjares. I did so not because I love Pepitos’ food (which I do), and not because Minjares is a talented actor and stand-up comic (which he is), but because I was so impressed with the quality of writing in the family story printed on the back of the menu. It “captured the heart and soul” of Pepitos, I wrote at the time. “It did everything right.”

 

Here’s what impressed me:

 

Personal voice

 

From the first sentence it was clear this was no institutional history: “In March of 1971 we walked through these doors for the very first time. Only 25 years old and with Joe fresh out of the army, we had no money, four kids, and the Great American Dream of owning our own business. Joe’s dad came to check out the investment he was about to make in his son’s future. One month later, in a flurry of panic and paperwork, we signed [on] the dotted line. We became proprietors of the Colonial Inn, now Pepitos.”

 

Colorful detail

 

In contrast with the bland, pedestrian style of sentences like these – “The Colonial Inn, which had once been a hardware store, had been around for decades, serving the usual fare. Although we didn’t make much money our first day, we were really excited to be the new owners” – the story was actually written like this:

 

“The Colonial had been in business since the early ’30s, serving 3.2 beer, hamburgers, and pizzas in what had once been a turn of the century hardware store. Our hopes and dreams for the future soared when they handed over the keys. Our own place! The first day we took in $45.”

 

Well-turned sentences arranged in climactic order

 

There were several, including “When Mama Lupe showed up to make tacos that first time, she brought along her helping hands, a bagful of spices, and a lifetime of experience,” and “The entire place is imbued with more than character. It is rich with memories, laughter, tears, and achingly good times.”

 

Recognition of the reader

 

As with all good stories, the reader felt included: “Our many long-time customers are woven into the fabric of this place, providing constructive comments, great ideas, friendship, and a sense of community. New customers keep coming, each bringing a new perspective, a changing vitality to the place. We welcome you to our family restaurant.”

 

As Tevlin noted in his column, Minjares served free Thanksgiving dinners “to thousands of people over the years.” I know from my wife’s volunteering for McRae Park in the 1980s that Minjares has long been known for his generosity in supporting neighborhood programs.

 

Now in declining health, Minjares “worries about the future of Pepitos,” Tevlin wrote, and Minjares “acknowledges that part of its success has been his own outsized personality.”

 

I wonder if part of its success has also been his own outsized heart.

 

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