Going out on top: Louthans sell catering business to concentrate on running youth tournaments in St. Louis area

JJ's Catering

Nolan Lowe, left, will take over JJ's Catering and Cafe J from Julie Louthan, center, and her husband, Jimmie Louthan, right, on July 1. | David Adam

QUINCY — Jimmie and Julie Louthan are leaving the catering business after enjoying back-to-back record years.

They have sold JJ’s Catering and Café J, which serves lunch for three hours on weekdays, in the Quincy Development Center at 1400 N. 30th to Nolan Lowe. The Louthans also had a share in the ownership of the Quincy Gems from September 2014 until last season, when they decided in August to discontinue running the team.

Now the Louthans will concentrate their efforts on Play9 Sports Tournaments, which operates youth softball and baseball tournaments in the St. Louis area while also providing sports management of the Normal Cornbelters and O’Fallon Hoots of the Prospect League.

“I didn’t know (the catering business and restaurant) was for sale or anything like that,” said Lowe, who worked in catering for HyVee for 29 years. “We just kind of got to talking at the (Quincy) Shootout (in January). I was looking to do something else, and somebody told me, ‘Why don’t you do this on your own?’ It was in the back of my head, and then Jimmie said something and it kind of grew from there.”

Lowe says he doesn’t plan to change much once he takes over July 1.

“I’m sure there will be little things, but one of the reasons I jumped into this is (the business is) ready to go,” he said. “They’ve got a great reputation. They’ve got weddings booked through the end of the year. I’m not trying to upset the applecart.”

Julie Louthan said she’s comfortable getting out after running the catering business since January 2004. It was important to find the right owner.

“I feel like we’re going out on the top,” she said. “We didn’t want to close down. Jimmie had actually talked to a couple of other people. One other local person we thought would maybe be interested, then decided it was just too big to handle. We liked the service that we offered, and we didn’t want to just close.”

“I think we’ve made our mark (in the catering business),” Jimmie said.

Julie handled the bookkeeping for JJ’s and took over more of the day-to-day duties when Jimmie became more involved in the youth tournaments.

“It used to be like, ‘Oh, I’d work it in with everything else,’” Julie said. “With the catering, I did all the phone calls and did all the bookings, which I enjoyed. I mean, it wasn’t like I didn’t like doing it. (But) as (Play9) has grown, it’s becoming more time-consuming. When you have more teams, there’s more bookkeeping and more financial stuff going on, and with more people working, there is more payroll. It’s becoming a full-time job.”

Play9 Sports was founded in 2018 as a collegiate wood bat team management company. It got into the high school travel baseball tournament scene in 2021. After buying Gateway Fastpitch Events and sports complexes in St. Peters, Mo., and Eureka, Mo., Play9 started travel fast-pitch softball and youth baseball tournaments this year in a partnership with Florida-based USSSA (United States Specialty Sports Association).

Games begin in March and run into November. Play9 had five tournaments in its first season. Now more than 2,500 teams will participate in Play9 tournaments this year.

“That (growth) had a lot to do with our business partner, Matt Stembridge,” Jimmie said. “With him being a baseball coach, he had a lot of relationships with college coaches and travel teams. Once we got a contract to start using (baseball and softball fields at) Lindenwood (University in St. Charles, Mo.), it just started growing. Once we started, we did really well.”

Play9 also coordinates tournaments throughout the Midwest for Midwest Premiere.

“We knew that (travel baseball and softball) was a big business,” Jimmie said. “With Matt’s relationships combined with the way we conduct our tournaments, that just kind of pushed some people out. And now we’re the biggest one in St. Louis.”

After 20 years, Julie says the need for catering in Quincy is as strong as ever.

“We’ve been turning business away on almost every weekend,” she said. “We didn’t have time to focus on it. That doesn’t mean (Lowe) can’t take on more business.”

“Since I’ve been here, June has been busier than any month I’ve ever worked in catering,” Lowe said. “Every day, somebody’s calling, wanting for the next day or Saturday or something’s coming up. It stinks turning away business, but you want to go a good job for people, too.”

The Louthans will remain in Quincy as their son, Mark, enters his senior year at Quincy High School and their daughter, Clara, attends Illinois State University.

Julie says she has mixed feelings as she leaves the catering world.

“I’m going to be from working from home (doing bookkeeping for Play9), and I am a little bit excited about that,” she said. “I do like seeing people every day, talking to people on the phone and the customer service part of it. I think I’ll miss that.”

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