With all the worn-out frozen yogurt shops and fast-food restaurants crowding the Figueroa corridor, it’s easy to give up all hope of finding a satisfying, home-cooked meal near campus.
But just ask any student where to find the best breakfast near USC and he or she will probably point you about nine blocks north of campus, where USC alumnus Mark Bednorz and his wife Vianney Bednorz greet hungry customers with charming smiles and plates of steaming pancakes at the comfortable but modern Jacks N Joe, located just above West Adams Boulevard.
Vianney Bednorz laughed as she recalled her friends’ reactions when she and Mark Bednorz opened the restaurant in December of 2010.
“People thought we were crazy when we wanted to put a restaurant in L.A.,” Vianney Bednorz said. “And maybe part of it is being a little bit crazy.”
But for the Bednorz family, the diverse Figueroa neighborhood was appealing.
“You get the students, we’re sandwiched in between three police departments so we get a lot of law enforcement, and then you have the community,” Vianney Bednorz said. “It’s such a random mix of people.”
On any weekend morning, a crowd of USC students, community members and tourists clamber outside the storefront, hungrily considering the laminated white menus as they await their chance to taste cinnamon apple pancakes or omelettes with Portuguese sausage, spam and feta.
But Jacks N Joe doesn’t just draw attention because of its food. The entire place has a family-oriented vibe that makes homesick students consider the restaurant a home away from home.
“[Jacks N Joe] is about more than just food,” Mark Bednorz said. “It has less to do with food and more about life. And enjoying life. And really bringing [students] to [their] potential. We sit here and talk to everybody and encourage you and tell you ‘Yeah! That’s great. Do this and that.’ And maybe we’re living proof that you can enjoy your life and do something great.”
Still, despite Mark Bednorz’s pleasure with the Jacks N Joe’s success, this restaurant for the USC community almost happened by chance.
After finishing his undergraduate degree in architecture and enjoying his time in the USC Surf Club, Mark Bednorz went on to work as an architect. Several years later, his son, Julian, who also graduated from USC with a degree in architecture, inspired him to give up his day job and open up a restaurant.
When Julian Bednorz came home with a group project to design a building near campus, Vianney and Mark Bednorz pitched the idea for “a breakfast all day kind of place” that would offset the unappealing fast food joints located near the campus. A few months later, while on a family vacation to the Grand Canyon, the Bednorz family decided to turn the school project into a reality.
“It was never a dream to open a restaurant,” Vianney Bednorz said. “We [were] all just sitting there on the cliff of the Grand Canyon and we [said], ‘Well, why don’t we just do something totally different with our lives? Why don’t we open a restaurant?’”
After getting back from the trip at the end of May 2010, Mark and Vianney Bednorz immediately began to work on the blueprints for the building and secured a lease by mid-July. Using Mark Bednorz’s expertise in design and architecture, the couple oversaw construction in August and finally had the completed building by December — a quick turnaround for opening a restaurant.
“We did all of the design, all of the construction, all of the drawings. Everything was submitted by myself to the city,” Mark Bednorz said. “[Knowing architecture] really paved the way for me to open up a restaurant, because that’s usually the hardest.”
After helping her husband put the finishing touches on the building’s design, Vianney Bednorz went to work on personally crafting the eccentric menu. Fans of Jacks N Joe will recognize meals like the “WTF?,” which features oddly-shaped pancakes topped with sweetened cream cheese, strawberries, powdered sugar and blueberries.
Other favorites include the “Pudgy Elvis,” a banana-and-peanut butter pancake dish named after the Bednorz’s dog, and the “7 Minutes in Heaven French Toast” with nutella, bananas and strawberries.
“Everything’s very personal,” Vianney Bednorz said. “Our menu is based on our family. Our ‘Roo’s Favorite,’ that was my daughter who passed away. She would eat nothing but chocolate chip pancakes. That’s all she would ever order, so those are a tribute to her.”
But even outside the menu and the general atmosphere of the restaurant, family remains a cornerstone of Jacks N Joe.
When they’re not dabbling in philanthropy by donating money to Troy Camp or talking to USC’s sororities and fraternities about fundraisers for children in Guatemala, Mark and Vianney Bednorz can be seen in the kitchen, preparing a fresh creation for the “Pancake of the Month.” Even the duo’s daughter, Isabella, often mans the cash register or buses tables while several of the family’s friends move swiftly through the restaurant, delivering food to tables and working in the kitchen.
“We tend not to just hire off the street,” said Vianney Bednorz. “We love to hire people that know people who know people. It has that kind of feel, and we like to keep it like that. We’re not just coworkers. We’re like a family here.”
Mark Bednorz’s parting advice to students interested in running their own business: Take a risk. “Just go for it,” Mark Bednorz said. “I wish more people would just dive off the end and care less about what people think. Just say ‘Hey, this is me. This is what I want to do.’ I just think, ‘Acquire less and do more.’ That’s what we have to do in life. It works for us and we enjoy it.”