By Frier McCollister

Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer

Jake’s Trustworthy Burgers and Beer recently threw a grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony with Mayor Victor Gordo presiding. Guests received free French fries, even though it was National Cheeseburger Day in Pasadena, the birthplace of the cheeseburger. 

The event resonated deeply with the history of Old Town Pasadena.

Gordo’s presence at the grand opening wasn’t for just another perfunctory ribbon cutting.

“Victor’s first job, when he was in high school, was working for me, as a busboy and then a server,” said Charles “Chipper” Pastron, the owners of Jake’s and a local serial restaurateur.

“He likes to tell, that I’m the only employer who fired him more than once.”

For Pastron, the event represented a reopening for the historic location, which started as Jake’s, a humble burger counter, in 1947. The small building lies diagonally along Colorado Boulevard in Old Town Pasadena, providing the northern gateway to Mills Place.

Pastron was an early pioneer in the redevelopment of Old Town, helping to rescue the area from a sustained period of pronounced urban blight. He and a partner bought the building housing Jake’s in 1989, after finding success with Rose City Diner and the first Market City Caffe on nearby Fair Oaks.

“(Jake’s) had been abandoned and closed for years,” Pastron said.

“It’s pretty much what Old Pasadena looked like in the late ’80s. When we opened (Rose City Diner) in ’87, the Exchange Block building, where Mi Piace is, was a burned-out building with a collapsed ceiling and stayed that way until it was developed. This building was abandoned, but it was a charming building. That’s why we decided to acquire it.

“In the early days of Old Pasadena, our waiters used to get mugged for their tips.”

Pastron served as vice president of the Old Pasadena Business and Professional Association at the time, and he was instrumental in persuading the police department to initiate its first foot patrols.

“That made a huge difference, when that started. People started feeling a little more comfortable. We started seeing a little more traffic and that’s when things started to change,” Pastron said.

Pastron opened Jake’s Burgers & Billiards in 1992, having installed a modest pool hall in the basement. Everardo Patino was hired in the kitchen in 1993 and remains at the grill. Patino met his wife, Maria, there in 1999.

“She always came here and ate the French fries,” Pastron said. “Patino makes this place what it is. Day in, and day out, he’s the man.”

Pastron ran Jake’s, as he expanded his hospitality group into several enterprises in Las Vegas.

“We ran (Jake’s) for almost a decade and then sold the business. The guy who bought it ran it (as Jake’s) for another 15, 16 years. Things came up. It was no longer sustainable for him,” Pastron explained.

The space then came under a new operator, who dubbed the spot Feel Burger, which lasted less than three years.

“They made some physical changes that weren’t that helpful,” Pastron said. “It didn’t work for him. So, after some time, not being able to find the right tenant, I decided to come back and do it myself.

“Originally, I was going to open in March of last year. You can imagine what happened with that. My original plan was to get the doors back open and the business running.”

Feel Burger removed the counter and awning, which Pastron intended to restore.

“I submitted my permit on March 16, 2020. You want to guess what happened? It was the week that everything shut down. I just sat on the project until November of last year,” Pastron said.

He launched a soft reopening of Jake’s in May.

“That’s really what this is about,” Pastron said.

“We’re trying to return Jake’s to Pasadena. It hasn’t been itself until just recently. Now what we’re doing is much more in a classic vein of hamburgers. It’s evolved but burgers are at the heart of what Jake’s has always done in this city. We want to be a part of the community. It’s a place for the community and the idea was to pair all of that with our beer from our brewery in Burbank.”

Pastron founded Trustworthy Brewing Company in Burbank in 2016 and the offerings on the craft beer menu are meant to pair with the burgers. 

The menus are elegantly simple at Jake’s. The classic 1947 burger ($8.75) is the headliner with two all-beef patties with American cheese, grilled onions, housemade pickles and Jake’s sauce. Swap in Beyond patties for $1.50.

Also featured: classic sliders ($7.25), three to an order; a hot dog ($6.25); the barbecue burger ($10.75); and a requisite spicy fried chicken sandwich ($11.75) served with coleslaw and pickles or housemade chicken strips ($7.50). Add hand-cut fries ($4) or onion rings ($5.65). Vanilla, chocolate and strawberry milkshakes ($7.25) fit right in and a full range of Jones Natural Sodas are available.

The beer menu features 10 varieties of fresh draft beer from Pastron’s Trustworthy Brewing Co. ranging from $7 to $9 a pint. Notable varieties include: Trustworthy IPA (6.8 ABV); Showroom Ready hazy IPA (7.4 ABV); Brass Jar, hoppy amber (8.0 ABV); and the Gigil, rice pilsener (4.7 ABV). There is also the Bear Temper, American barley wine (10.7 ABV) and black cherry hard seltzer (5.0 ABV).

Despite the local fanfare over Jake’s return, the transition has not been entirely easy for the seasoned restaurateur.

“The pandemic pretty much destroyed my company,” Pastron noted, citing the operations he lost in Las Vegas, in the wake of the pandemic. 

“With that change, the company was really coming to an end. In thinking about opportunity and what I wanted to do, maybe (this) romantic idea was a little half-baked on my part. Opening even now as this area and our economy is still trying to find its way back, it’s very challenging. It’s tough, a lot tougher than I expected.”

The Old Town veteran sees a slow recovery locally.

“The office population down here is probably at about 30%,” Pastron said. “Look across the street, a lot of businesses have not returned yet. So, the consumer is still navigating what’s here and where to go. This used to be a walking district. That’s not really what’s happening right now. We’re struggling with that. It’s a challenge. Things are improving but it’s a hard place for us. The district really hasn’t recovered and found itself yet.

“I live here in this town. I started my career here. I raised my kids here. The idea of opening a restaurant again in my neighborhood, with my kids serving people I know, that’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m doing it. I opened this for Pasadena, in Pasadena, because I’m part of the community and I want it to be here.”