Posted on 09-23-2011
Straight From My Heart: Love made edible
The green chile harvest continues -- up and down the streets of Federal Blvd. the chile tents are lined up everywhere. My favorite green chile is New México’s Big Jim, first introduced to me by Candy Ortega at Nick's Garden Center in Aurora, several years ago.
Denver is home to a notable family who began selling green chile from a stand at 26th Ave. and Federal Blvd., over twenty-five years ago, and from there -- a family business that expanded to the popular Jack-n-Grill Mexican Restaurant. Jack Martínez and Ana Pedroza-Martínez, owners of the nationally recognized restaurant shared some fascinating stories about their green chile journey.
Jack-n-Grill reads like a modern day fairy tale with romance, green chile and happily ever after. To me, the famous eatery has become more of a legend than a fairy tale. Jack met Ana in New México; and in 1976, Ana was 16 and he was 21, they were married in an old fashioned traditional 17th century colonial style wedding complete with pages carrying banners with the bride and groom's family coat of arms. That was 37 years ago.
What makes this story so special is that Jack has always been a salesman and a risk taker, and Ana has always supported her husband at every risk and turn he has taken in their lives. The magic ingredient in this fairy tale/legend is Socorro, New México green chile. This is a fairy tale romance and marriage made in green chile Heaven.
Jack was born in Denver, Colorado. His father, Elmer Martínez was a police officer and his mother, Mary Perez, is from the San Luis Valley. An interesting phenomenon in my recent writings is that there continues to be a link with Francis Heights Senior Apartments where I reside, both Jack and Ana’s mothers call Francis Heights their home.
Ana is a native of New México. Jack's family moved to Alburquerque, when he was a young boy. Jack had five brothers and his mother raised her six boys to be self-reliant. Mary taught Jack to cook, passing on her red and green chile recipes; which are served at the three Jack -N- Grill restaurants.
Jack was a salesman and a reserve police officer in Albuquerque, when he and Ana married. In 1985, Jack was selling insurance and met a co-worker, Clemente Bustamante who had a green chile farm in Socorro, New México. Jack's grandmother in Denver wanted bushels of fresh green chile, so Jack traveled to Denver with five bags of Sandia Española green chile and sold it to his family in Denver.
Suddenly, he had several requests for bushels of chile; Jack purchased a roaster from Bustamante and the following year he expanded his business and named it the “Original Chile Brothers”. In 1985, Jack had five green chile stands along the corridors of Federal Blvd. in Denver. The entrepreneur’s chile stand on 26th and Federal was next to a TV repair shop that he eventually rented and later purchased the building in 1994.
In 1995, after the fall chile season was over, Jack began selling cars for John Elway dealerships to supplement the family income. He did this for three years during the off-chile-season. One day, Jack recalls a fellow colleague from Texas bragging that he made the best Tex-Mex chile con carne in the southwest; so Jack challenged him to a chile dual. Jack cooked a few large pots of green chile with pork, using his mother Mary's recipe and a pile of homemade tortillas. Needless to say, Jack's green chile was a hit and consumed long before the Texan's chile con carne.
In March of 2000, Jack purchased a large cooking grill and began catering to auto dealer sites. During his off-chile season, he sold hamburgers and burritos from his beloved grill.
When the snow began, Jack told his wife, “Honey, I'm not selling another car. I'm tired of making money for other people.” In December of 1990, he decided to open a restaurant and renovated the north Denver Chile Shop and the family utilized the loft space of the building as their primary residence.
It was Ana's idea for the name for the restaurant. She told Jack, “You should name the restaurant Jack -N- Grill, because you are always carrying your grill around cooking for people. So in the year 2000 a Jack -n-Grill legacy was born and by the year 2011, there would be three Jack -N- Grill restaurants in the Denver area (2524 N. Federal Blvd, 303-964-9544; 2630 W. Belleview Ave., 303-474-4242; 9310 Sheridan Blvd, 303-428-4788).
Jack created the four directions logo for the new restaurant and used his charisma and sales experience to market his business.
Along with Jack’s long history in sales, his good nature and charisma add to the success of Jack-n-Grill; he and Ana take time visiting with their customers who end up feeling like one of the family. They also continue to offer catering services for special events.
“Since we started the restaurant, we have had the same prices, the same menu and the same chile,” said Jack.
For the Martínez family it has been a hard and arduous journey, but the family has always believed in their leader, husband and father, Jack -- who has always been a risk taker.
Jack explained that he purchases organic green chile from Socorro and Deming, New México; which he sells at the north Denver location, but due to the crops this year he sold out his supply last weekend.
Jack and Ana are looking to expand their restaurant in Albuquerque, and eventually the family's goal is to have 250 Jack -N- Grill locations across the nation.
Jack-n-Grill gained national notoriety when the iconic restaurant’s seven-pound burrito was highlighted on the Travel Channel’s “Man vs Food”. The monstrosity is free to those who can finish the behemoth burrito in one sitting, some do accomplish this and get their photo placed on the decorative walls along with the numerous “Jack” memorabilia. Jack’s old friend, former football legend, John Elway is known to stop by from time to time.
The humble couple added they are not materialistic and try to pass their values on to their children. One day, one of their children asked if they were millionaires, Jack laughed and explained to them he never went into the chile business for the money.
Jack explained that family is everything to him and their family does everything together. Their large family includes their three children, Jack II, Diego and Desiree and adopted son Eppie, two daughter-in-laws, Therese and Cheleste; and their grandchildren, Izabell, Jack III, Dezmond, Ana, Rudy, and Dayliha. Jack's brother, Scott and wife, Kathy also work for the family business. Unbelievably the entire family works in the business, along with extended family and close friends creating warmth and always extending a genuine welcome.
Jack said there is a distinction in Mexican food, “There is Mexican, and then there is Jack -N- Grill. My cooking is love, made edible.”
Magdalena Gallegos is a writer, playwright, historian, and publisher (Southwest Magazine).
© 2011 The Weekly Issue/El Semanario, Inc.