Written by Derek Haugen Photography by Daniel Garcia
RESTAURANT OWNER JORGE SANCHEZ CONTINUES TO CARRY HIS FAMILY'S LEGACY FORWARD ON SAN FERNANDO STREET.
olor and vitality spark each component of Chacho’s— the decor, the menu, the customers. The walls pop grapefruit pink and merge American and Mexican imagery through art, like Francisco Franco’s painting Marilyn Muerta. Franco’s lucha libre mural represents a diverse set of cultural icons, including Cesar Chavez, Speedy Gonzales, E.T., and Cheech and Chong. Album art featuring Chicano musicians and original posters from El Teatro Campesino productions line the walls of the back room. Jorge Sanchez was born in Gilroy in 1966, grew up in East San Jose, and studied fashion design at Evergreen College before taking over the family restaurant he built with his mother and father. His passion for art and the influence of the Chicano Movement infuse the total atmosphere at Chacho’s. “I have a bunch of friends who are artists...who say ‘Jorge, you’re an artist. You design the restaurant, you have your own style of art.’ It’s kind of funny,” Sanchez says, “I guess some of the stuff I learned in design helped me out.” The restaurant has evolved. The original Chacho’s was located at Almaden and Santa Clara, where the zoot suit mural and restaurant name can still be seen today. Sanchez explains, “[We] started out as a white napkins and tablecloth, fine-dining place, and we're obviously not that anymore. Now we're more like this 'never-ending weekend,’ a ‘forever Cinco de Mayo.’ We go through a lot of food and a lot of cocktails.” The food, too, has changed since Chacho’s first opened. Jorge has grown his mother’s traditional menu into new dishes, like the Micharon Shrimp and Chacho’s Famous Fajitas. “The recipes are based on my mom’s cooking, but we tweak it out. The person who actually puts everything together is me, and I get together with Ines [Ovando, the head cook]. Our Enchiladas de Mole are awesome. I get the mole in Mexico, so I'm in Mexxico four times a year, picking up spices.”
“When I go there, I pick up ideas, so I always call it R&D. Some people understand, some people don’t. You have to go out and see what’s going on in the market, in different cultures, in different cities, in different communities. Is there something you can come back with that will start a trend?” Curiosity and courage have served Sanchez well in developing recognizable and popular cocktails. “[Chacho’s] started the 50-milliliter concept which is the little bottles upside down [in a 22-ounce schooner],” Sanchez says. “We started the upside-down beer back in 1998. We’ve come up with a bunch of cool stuff that has expanded to other restaurant chains and groups.” “Chacho’s long-term success [comes from] being original, keeping the originality active. Not keeping the experience bland,” Sanchez says. “Reinvent yourself all the time, question yourself all the time.” Despite Chacho’s success, Sanchez notes, “it’s not all about making money, it’s about giving back.” The restaurant supports local community fundraising, and is an official sponsor for both San Jose State University and the San Jose Giants. Chacho’s also extends discounts for nonprofit organizations. Even as Chacho’s keeps him busy, Sanchez continues to brainstorm new projects. He opened Deluxe next door to Chacho’s in late 2015. It’s a new take on the classic American diner with its own charm—and bar. In July 2016, next door to Deluxe, Sanchez will open his third San Fernando spot, San Patricio’s, and bring the flavors of Mexico to a traditional Irish pub. “San Jose is in a good spot right now,” Sanchez says. “For me, San Fernando is the main street for downtown San Jose. [It] has all the banks, the museum, the cathedral, the library, city hall, San Jose State. Being on San Fernando has been an awesome blessing.”