Jake Crocker wants to conquer another corner.
The restaurateur and barkeep, along with partners Hayden Fisher and Jose Garcia, this month purchased the Fan House restaurant at 2526 Floyd Ave., where they plan to open Jorge’s Cantina.
This is Crocker’s third restaurant and fourth Fan storefront in a three-block radius, including F.W. Sullivan’s, Lady N’Awlins Cajun Cafe and Uptown Market & Deli. Garcia owns the restaurant Mexico, which has eight locations across Richmond.
“It’s close to our base,” Crocker said. “It’s a prominent location, and it’s available.”
But this new location comes with a turbulent recent history.
Former Fan House owner Sunny Zhao, who sold Crocker the business, closed the doors to his restaurant in February 2012 after facing determined opposition from the Fan District Association, which was unhappy with the late-night bar crowd that the space attracted.
The group spoke out when Zhao sought to move the restaurant’s bar area from its second floor to the ground floor and open outdoor seating, for which the property wasn’t zoned.
“All the problems with the neighbors, it really took the fun out of it,” Zhao said. “I was just really shocked at how crazy people were. I have a house in Glen Allen, right, because it’s quiet out there. But I know if I buy a house in the Fan, it’s going to be a little noisier than a house in the suburbs. That space is always going to be a restaurant, so kicking me out of that place is really not going to change anything.”
Crocker and his team will face the same restrictions.
Under the existing special-use permit and ABC license for the location, Jorge’s won’t be able to serve alcohol past 1:30 a.m. – most bars can stay open until 2 a.m. – and the bar has to stay upstairs.
Crocker said that he understands the restrictions on the business and that he isn’t going to try his luck with the neighborhood association.
“We’re going to be very open with the neighbors,” Crocker said. “We’re going to run an operation that’s compliant with all the rules and regulations. We’re not going to try and extend our ABC license to 2 a.m., and we’re going to keep our bar upstairs.”
Charlie Diradour, a member of the Fan District Association who owns several Richmond properties that house restaurants and bars, said that as long as Crocker complies with the existing rules, he wouldn’t face the kind of neighborhood opposition that plagued Zhao.
“On a personal note,” Diradour said, “I am looking forward to a great Mexican restaurant on Robinson Street. I know that they are responsible people and will adhere to the special-use permit.”
Crocker is an adept bar operator. According to ABC records, F.W. Sullivan’s, which opened at the end of 2009, is one of the top customers of Richmond’s busiest ABC store at 10 North Thompson St.
In November, Sullivan’s represented more than 6 percent of the store’s business, surpassed only by Lucky Buddha in Shockoe Bottom. Lady N’Awlins is the store’s seventh best customer. Crocker also has an F.W. Sullivan’s in Fredericksburg.
But Crocker said the idea for Jorge’s is different from Sullivan’s and Lady. Mexican food, he said, has high margins and low overhead, and he’s confident he can make the business work.
And that’s good, because a lot of other owners haven’t had much luck in the new Jorge’s location. Before it was Fan House, it was Carlton’s, Verbena and Konstas. Crocker, though, isn’t about to let the location be called “cursed.”
“That’s just dumb,” Crocker said of the idea of an unlucky location. “We’ve been told that with every single place we’ve ever gone. In our Sullivan’s location in Fredericksburg, that had been three different things in two years before we took it over … and people said the same thing: ‘That place is cursed.’ We’re confident in our business model.”