Neighborhood Flavor profiles the people behind the familiar restaurants, bars and food businesses of the Eastside
Silver Lake -- From street art to pretzel making, Jesse Reyes has had every job in between.
He has exhibited in art shows and painted two murals on the Eastside, one that is still around and shows up on the Pokemon Go app on Glendale Boulevard.
Reyes grew up in San Fernando with his mom and grandparents. He moved to San Francisco, where he started selling vegan pretzels from his garage and pop ups. When he came back to Los Angeles, Reyes continued his business, Chuy's Pretzels, from his home in Silver Lake.
In a Q&A, Reyes shares his experience running the business.
What's Chuy's story? How did it start?
It started in San Francisco, back in 2012. I was selling them on the streets during a street fair. There was a lot of pop up stuff going on in San Francisco. I would pop out every so often, go to the park and sell them, and make them for friends or parties. I would sell them down at this bar called The Lone Star. I gave them away another time when I DJ, but yet it all started in San Francisco after watching an episode of Good Eats with Alton Brown. It was just one of those nights where I was like, that looks good! I'm not really into baking. Baking is very technical for me. So, I don't know, I just saw it and I was like, I can do that.
I went to Philly to meet my ex's family, and there was like pretzels everywhere. I think when I came back it was like, I was kind-of missing the pretzels, the show came on, and everything kind of just clicked. And yeah, that first time I sold them in the streets, they were selling like crazy. I think that's when I realized that I had something.
At first, it seemed like something I would like to eat and then it kind of turned into something I became super interested in because then I came to find out this whole connection between Germany and Mexico. You know, the Germans came over and they taught them how to bake bread, and use yeast, and then use the yeast to make beer.
I thought that was interesting too because my grandpa was from Chihuahua and he had like blond hair, blue eyes. There was always like a mystery to me until I was older. Then, when I started looking into the pretzel thing, I'm like, "Oh, like, of course, like, you know, he's got some German or something in his blood.” It kind of made sense.
I feel like I had a connection with them and I was good at making them, so it just kind of stuck.
What is the best part of owning your own business?
I don't know, I think there's like a sense of accomplishment, a sense of making people happy, which is pretty rad. Like, just dropping off these pretzels to folks and they're like, "Oh my god, it's the best thing ever."
It's also this part of fulfillment, I guess, from being an artist and having all these years of trying to break into the art world or trying to get people to notice you. And it's funny, because I feel like now I'm getting noticed for something which is like technically, I mean, I would say it's an art form.
What is the most challenging part?
Oh god, the most challenging part is all of the business aspects. For lack of a better word, I'm a very free spirited person. I like doing things as I feel like, and I think the hardest part has been really buckling down and like, you know, tracking orders in a spreadsheet, keeping track of all my customers, following up with customers. So, the hardest part has been being organized.
What did you do before you started Chuy’s?
Oh god, I've had every single job under the sun. I was a UPS driver. No, actually, you know what? I've never been like a professional cook and I've worked in kitchens, but my first job was actually at the snack shop at Target, when Target used to have a little snack area, where you'd get like sandwiches and stuff. I worked in a kitchen at this bar called Truck in San Francisco, at Bristol farms in San Francisco making sandwiches and doing like stuff in the kitchen. My last job actually last year was at the Alamo Drafthouse here in downtown. I've never actually been like a professional cook, professional chef. I just kind of picked up a job here and there.
You said you were an artist?
I've painted for years. I've had a couple art shows here and there. I have a couple murals in Silver Lake. One of them is still up, right under The Echo [nightclub] on Glendale .... My first mural was over across form Astros' on on Fletcher. And it's kind of funny, I think it's still on the Pokemon game, if you play the Pokemon GO App: Silver Lake mural. It comes up.
What is your favorite pretzel?
My favorite is the salt. I used to say the nori. Nori is probably one of the more interesting flavors, but the salt ones I feel like they're solid. The best seller is the cheese and jalapeño. They got these nice little crispy bits on the end that are just like, amazing.