H-NO PLACE LIKE HOME

Oct 27, 2011 7:07 PM by Jeanette Trompeter

Jocko's in Nipomo

We hear the gloomy news all the time about our economy. The numbers, reports, and forecasts can be overwhelming. Well if you want to find proof there are businesses booming, head to Nipomo. Because there's a little place called Jocko's that is bucking the economic trends, and at the same time, serving up all kinds of proof There's No Place Like Home.

The road that runs in front of it once was the main thoroughfare heading north and south through the central coast, but that was a long time ago. And the exterior of the place won't likely draw too many first-timers inside. But the smoke and the smells outside might.

What has kept the crowds coming to Jocko's is the food that is being grilled out back, and served up in front. "It's the best steak in the world!" boasts Tim Hunter of Covina, California. He and his wife are Jocko's regulars even though they live hours away. Jocko's draws crowds 7 days a week, and they come from all over. "We picked my niece and her husband up one morning and said 'We're going to dinner.' And we drove up here from L.A. had dinner, turned around and drove back." Hunter says matter of factly.

Sandy Knotts is the owner of Jocko's and says she's as suprised as anyone that people would travel so far for a visit to her restaurant. "I have people that drive down from San Francisco, and they turn around and and go back. That's a long drive for a steak dinner!" she laughs.

It's not just any steak dinner, though, but steak Jocko's style. That means hand cut, high quality beef, cooked over an oak pit out back, served up with salsa, beans, bread, baked potatoes with all the fixin's and yes, a relish tray while you wait. But beef isn't always what's for dinner around here. Ray Bonilla of Santa Maria has tried just about everything on the menu and says it's all good. "Oh the pork-chops! You get two huge pork-chops. The baby-back ribs, you get a whole rack of ribs, 13 ribs!" he says. "My wife loves the halibut, the crab legs here are great, the whole menu is wonderful!" he says. "And they have the greatest breakfasts in the world here too."

They're open 361 days a year. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, so they actually open at 8 in the morning, but it's once that barbecue pit opens at 4:30 that things really get hoppin'.

And because it's a gathering place for those in the know, there's usually lots of camaraderie among regulars and repeat out-of-towners. Which means you may wait awhile for a table. "Even with reservations, I've heard, the wait can be two hours." I ask Sandy. "Oh yes." she says with a bit of embarrassment. "We try to do it, but you can never tell how long people are going to sit at their table. after they've finished dinner."

Those in a hurry, or celebrities hoping to lie/lay low can opt for one of tiny tables in the hallway back by the kitchen. You'll witness a different kind of chaos from there...where meals are move through faster than the crowds and a steady stream of travelers passing through town make pit-stops for orders to go.

It is also where the walls tell a history lesson of the Santa Maria Valley. The second oldest brand in California hangs on the wall in the dining room and it's tied to Knott's family. Her roots fun deep around here and her late husband's grandfather started the Jocko's magic back in 1886. "Jocko had a bar over there before prohibition." Knott's explains, pointing to a now empty lot kitty corner from the current Jocko's location. "And then they closed him down after prohibition, and supposedly our liquor license is the second liquor license issued after prohibition." Good food didn't become part of the picture until 1957. "And it took off." explains Knotts. "Within a couple of weeks they had to build another dining room."

And the rest, as they say, is history. The construction of highway 101 took traffic away from Jocko's, but not the customers. Jocko's survived that, deaths in the family, and downturns in the economy. "I mean have you ever had a lull?" I ask Knotts. "Uuummmm, not that I can remember." she answers shyly. I walk in here and the bar's packed and both dining rooms arepacked, and I'll say Oh my Goodness, they say there's a recession going on?"

Times may be tough, but the dollar goes a long way at Jocko's. It's rare people leave without a to-go bag, and Jocko's offers up a kind of stability not easy found in our changing times. It's really nothing fancy. And kind of is off the beaten path. But once someone finds their way into Jocko's for the first time, it usually won't be their last. "you know if you want a whole lot of ambiance, go to Spago in L.A." says Hunter. "But if you want a good steak, come to Jocko's."

And it's right in our own backyard.

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