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Honoree Headshot

Bruce Russell Jr

CEO & Founder
Russell Restaurant Group

Location: Dunn, WI
Founded: 2011
Industry: Restaurant & Hospitality

In between road trips for his role as an area director for a restaurant chain, Bruce Russell Jr. noticed a vacant building on Main Street in Menomonee Falls. He reflected on the time and stress of overseeing multiple restaurants and thought that running his own operation might be a better use of his time. He dropped off his daughter at school and called the number on the vacant building.

Russell Jr. quickly worked out a deal to lease-to-own the building, the first step in opening what would become his first Irish pub, A.J. O’Brady’s, in 2011. The pub was an immediate hit, with lines out the door on some nights and 45- to 60-minute wait times.

“The first weekend we opened, the fuses blew in the dining room and for about two hours we only had candlelight,” Russell Jr. recalled. “I remember everyone stayed and kept drinking, eating and just talking with each other. I knew at that moment we had something special.”

That success led to the Russell Restaurant Group, where Russell Jr. is CEO and founder, operating three restaurants with plans for more in the future. The goal is to be “true pubs in the industry and not be perceived as just a bar or restaurant. We want to make a positive impact on our communities and develop our employees to be strong leaders in the hospitality business,” he said.

Russell Jr. climbed his way up in the business, working for corporate restaurants like Houlihan’s, Walt Disney, Maggiano’s, Claddagh Irish Pubs and Bar Louie. He saw the operation from all levels — server, bartender, supervisor, manager, bar manager, general manager and area director.

Over that time, he learned that success is impossible without help from others. A good team is a must.

“We’re learning more and more in this new world that employees are very important,” the CEO and founder said. “None of us can achieve our goals or be successful as a team without each other. Not losing sight of that is important to being a successful leader during these times.

“A good coach definitely takes time to sit down with their employees and listen to them. If they’re struggling with something, give them the attention they need till they get it right with fun and positive feedback.”

Russell Jr. said his burgers have always been a high priority at his restaurants, and that showed when A.J.’s won the Culinary Fight Club burger competition at Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee in 2018.

Russell Jr.’s vision is to one day have 7–10 restaurants or more.

“It was always my dream to own multiple restaurants and I love seeing the staff grow and develop,” he said. “I also love seeing how we grow in the communities we’re in and how the communities grow along with us. There’s no doubt A.J.’s has helped change the vibe of Menomonee Falls, and I’ve been super proud to be a major part of it.”

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I played College baseball at Iowa Central in 1997. I was 1998 Land O' Lakes Pitcher of the year. I have a huge passion for baseball, my favorite team is the Milwaukee Brewers. My second favorite team has been the New York Yankees. Not because they win, but because the history of the players that have played for them and how it's been a big part of why baseball is what it is today.

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