Taking care of business

PHOTO BY D. Brian Burghart

John Jesse is sort of like a yeti around Reno: quiet, unassuming, but a bit larger than life. It seems everyone knows of him, but you've kind of got to be where he is to get to know him. His business is J3 Designs, and he can be reached on the web at johnjesse.info or on the phone at 453-8222.

You’re well known around town. How did that come about?

I was in the restaurant business for a good number of years.

What restaurants?

The first restaurant I ever had was called the Cochon Volant. Relatively unknown, and then Tim Helion and I and another partner built Deux Gros Nez. And right after that, I went to work on Pneumatic Diner. And those were the restaurants I mostly started.

You were like 20 years ahead of your time with Deux Gros Nez. Or maybe you were 20 years behind your time because it seems like there was a period that went from the Beatniks to this modern coffee craze, and you were right in the middle of that time period. What inspired the three of you to do that?

I worked at a place in Scottsdale, Arizona, for a little while. I liked the machinery that went along with espresso coffee, and one day I met a guy who was actually one of the Elles of Elle Cafe fame, if anyone knows of them. He came to the store, and he talked to me, and he really inspired me, and he’s an Italian guy, and his family has been the principal roaster in Italy for three generations. And he told me a whole lot about the technology of brewing coffee. I got really interested in that. So when we came to Reno, there was no place to get a croissant or a decent espresso. Period. There was nothing. So we decided we would try and do that. And we looked around San Francisco and the Bay Area a little bit, to see what other people had done. And we found a cigar and coffee place in San Francisco—Mario’s or something like that—and that just had that feel, that community, small, cozy kind of feel. And that’s what I based the Deux on when we designed it.

That place was the community hub. What made you close it?

I did not close it. Tim and I were having a hard time feeling aligned, and the diner was not a good operation at all. It had never had a manager. I’d never been a manager in our company, and so we decided I would take the diner, and he would take the Deux. I did well with the diner and ended up owning the building I’ve got [720 Tahoe St.], based on that. It was going to be the new diner, because the diner was so successful we were going to try to expand, but Tim—[Deux Gros Nez] just beat him up, and he wanted to get out of the business.

What do you do now?

[Laughs] Odd jobs. Really. Technically, I do odd jobs. I do hydronic heat work, boiler work. I’ve been doing a little solar lately. I do fabrication. Fabrication led me to work on electric cars. I’ve got a really good cross-set of skills, so electric cars are a really good fit for me. I can do the metal fabrication; I know enough about the electrics in them to be able to work in them. Some architectural metal fabrication, but I don’t get a lot of that kind of work.