Students returning to campus with hopes of mac and cheese and fried chicken will have to settle for a lunch with a little less soul after the closing of Jessie’s Hot House over the summer.
The restaurant, formerly nestled in the southwest corner of the Cesar Chavez Student Center, had been dishing out savory home-style dishes since March 2008.
“I received an email over the summer from my manager,” said former employee Candace Masaquel, who had been working for owners Robert and Julissa Darden for eight months as a cashier. “It was a surprise, and definitely upsetting for me because it was my main source of income during the school year. I definitely did not expect it to close anytime soon.”
However, the story behind Jessie’s Hot House and its tumultuous relationship with the Student Center Governing Board reveals that the restaurant leaving its location was the final act in a long history of disagreements.
For executive chef and owner Robert Darden, the blame lies squarely with the Student Center Governing Board.
“There’s a whole other set of rules that you have to go by,” Darden said.
After years of disputes, the Dardens left the campus because “it wasn’t worth fighting for anymore.”
When Jessie’s opened in March 2008, Darden says that his rent for the 300 square feet of kitchen and retail space was $6,000, an amount that he calls “exorbitant.” However, Leonard Corpus, Retail Commercial Services Manager at the Student Center, disputes that number.
“I don’t think it was $6,000,” said Corpus. “To my knowledge that is an inaccurate number.”
In any case, by September 2008, Jessie’s was unable to pay rent. The restaurant was served with an eviction notice, but instead of leaving, Darden and his wife Julissa chose to stay and attempt a rent negotiation with the board.