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The Aftertaste

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All it would have taken is 15 more customers every day. I had the vision, the vehicle and the right location.

The best days were when all the babies would come in and they felt safe and laughed and would go into the kitchen with me in search of berries … when I had the grandmother bringing her granddaughter for ice cream or when Jim Ukrop would send people in for lunch. Even a major rock 'n' roll band had its end-of-tour dinner at Jumpin J's Java. All kinds of people sat in those goofy chairs under my orange ceiling. I dreamed we'd be there forever. I wanted y'all to love me, and some of you did. If I could have existed on goodwill, I'd be there still.

Richmond is the place I've lived the longest. I'm going to be 50 this year. I owe more money than I can imagine, but I don't have any regrets. There's so much weight in the generosity that I've received and won't be able to repay, and I am not sure what's next. Truthfully I'm a little scared. I'm not cynical -- I just don't quite know what my feet look like. J's was an act of love and fearlessness. I'm no longer feeling bold and fearless, but I have to believe it will be OK. What I really want to say is the Hawaiian mantra that I keep telling myself: Thank you. I'm sorry. Please forgive me, and I love you. The only thing I regret is not having money to pay everybody who believes in me. It was an honor for me; it really was.

Find a partner to share the burden. And find ways to use capital fund money to open a business in the city of Richmond. It really won't matter how much homework or how prepared you are; until you're in the midst of it, you won't know what you'll have to do. There's no way to know, but you can find a way to connect with the folks who will take an interest and help. You just need a high threshold of patience, tolerance, humor and working capital. In most places it will take you twice as long as you think it will, but in Richmond it will take you three times or longer, including captivating an audience.

The city doesn't seem to be ready to provide support for a small business in an enterprise zone where needs have been deemed needed. One challenge was learning to navigate through the city government, with them deciding how to bring the building up to code while their own departments are not interconnected. There was no division that could direct me to the next step. I would have to wait for one piece and then they'd say, Oh, here's a whole other step. I would get a tax lien one day and a tax credit the next. You can't stay on top of all the intricacies; the city system is not refined yet. The small-business owners take the entire risk — there's no liaison to tell you what to do. There are some extraordinary people working in city government who are helpful, but it's such a cumbersome process that it wears you down. What the city doesn't understand is that time matters, hours and days matter to a small business. There aren't big budgets built in for these long delays.

I've opened other people's restaurants in nine other places around the world, and this is the most cumbersome place of all to do it.

I finally opened J's with the restrictions they'd given me — limiting my hours, my number of employees, based on a pretty antiquated master plan — but we opened three and a half years ago and it was magic. We were embraced in so many ways in the community, and part of that, all my emotional sense of that, is how sorry I am that I couldn't hold it together. I had this dream and did it with everything I'd worked for my entire life. I sold my house, my jewelry. I lost my humor, and for all the people I was surly to, I'm so sorry.

I gave up hope and time. The coffee shop has never been self-sustaining. I've not only sold everything I own, but also taken other jobs to supply income for the business. I was undercapitalized.

Richmond is not a place that embraces change. I took something and changed it. I really anchored a neighborhood. I've had extraordinary people work for me under severe conditions. We made all that food on butane burners and a convection oven.

I do think that I was ahead of my time in terms of development in the neighborhood.

Richmond has a strange choir of voices that is muddled, without any clarity of vision about how to embrace what is and move forward. If you look at tourism dollars, people don't want to come to a downtown that looks like the last convention they went to. They want things that are intrinsic to a city's vibrancy. Downtown is almost on the cusp of having that, but it's still tainted by unnecessary encumbrances and the lack of possibility. I'm from the West Coast, and coming here, seeing all the things Richmond could do on its waterfront, there's so much that could be tailored to the individual creature needs of Richmond. I just don't believe there's a group that is deciding the future of what Richmond is going to look like. How do you have a public voice that doesn't become as much rhetoric as theirs? S



Je Depew recently closed her Church Hill restaurant, Jumpin J's Java, after three and a half years in business.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.




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