By Jason DeRusha

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It is one of the quirkiest, most endearing traditions at a Twin Cities steakhouse that is full of them: the personalized, embossed matchbook at Jax Café.

“I’ve heard they have lasers that they just type the name in. It’s not as personalized,” said Marla Moody, the current embosser of matchbooks.

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Moody arrives at Jax most mornings at 8:30 a.m., looks at the list of reservations, and the requested messages, and gets to work.

“I don’t know how many people actually realize how much actually goes into it to make that matchbook for them,” she said.

Moody works in the coat check closet with a small embosser. Each letter is individually selected, and Moody pulls a lever, stamping the matchbook with memories like “Happy Birthday,” “Happy Anniversary,” or “Will you marry me?”

“It started in the 50’s that we had a customer who sold the matchbooks to my grandfather and dad and uncles. He in his travels saw this somewhere else, asked them if they want to do it, they took a gamble and it’s been with us ever since,” said Bill Kozlak, owner of Jax Café.

Kozlak estimated that he spends about $60,000 a year on buying matchbooks and paying Moody to emboss them. “Of course I’ve been tempted to try to take that budget line away,” he laughed, “but there would be a revolt.”

In fact, he had to lobby the Minneapolis City Council to modify the proposed ordinance banning smoking in the city. “At first the bill banned anything used in smoking, including matches,” he said.

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He got the wording changed, and the matchbooks continue.

Anyone can request a message for their table when they reserve online, or if they call. Marla Moody isn’t the only one trained to work the machine, “Every time we get a new host or hostess, we have to train them in case we make a mistake,” he said. “People like to hear their name. If you’re gonna be good at sales, learn their name. People like to see their name, too.”

Moody has worked the embosser for three years, and she said she likes to imagine what the circumstance is behind the message.

“I look at it this way, would I save it for a keepsake? Then it’s OK to go out,” she explained.

“You’re making them happy, giving them something they would enjoy and keep. It’s rewarding that way. I’ve had people stop and thank me, for the matches. It just – that makes you feel good,” said Moody.

“Everybody has a Jax story, and this helps them remember it,” Kozlak said.

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Jax Café
1928 University Avenue NE, Minneapolis

Jason DeRusha