For Jeff Jensen, the moment he realized he wanted to go into business with Jeff D. Hall was early one morning, after a nighttime of partying. When Jensen woke up with a hangover before the break of dawn in his Orange apartment, he saw Hall applying the finishing touches to dozens of ramekins of crème brûlée he was preparing for class at Orange Coast College.
"I told Jeff, 'Dude, what are you doing up already?'" Jensen says. "And he said, 'Working.'"
For Hall, the sealing of their eventual partnership was somewhere different: Spearmint Rhino in Las Vegas, while both were partying—"But after a long day of work," he makes sure to point out with a hearty laugh.
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"Work hard, play hard" is the mantra of Hall and Jensen's two restaurants, Chapter One: The Modern Local, and C4 Deli: Cure for the Common in Santa Ana. The former, opened in 2011, is famous countywide for its large, boisterous scene anchored by fine dining and the spectacular cocktails of bartender Drew Tripp; C4 opened last year to instantaneous acclaim for its sandwiches, beers, cured meats, pickled eggs and easier-going atmosphere. Each is a reflection of the two Jeffs, guys who one moment are buying shots for customers, the next moment stepping outside to place a food order.
"We're cut from the same cloth," says Jensen (known as JJ to staff at the two restaurants to differentiate him from Hall). "We see things the same way—if you're not hustling, you're not moving forward."
The two came to running their restaurants from different roads. Jensen, born and raised in Santa Ana, worked for a Chevy dealership before heading off to Las Vegas to moonlight at the Cannery Casino, where he did "a bit of everything." Hall, on the other hand, worked for "tons of places—PF Chang's, Cheesecake Factory, Baskin-Robbins, you name it"—before eventually enrolling at OCC's culinary program. From there, he got a job with the Auld Dubliner chain, hiring Jensen to take over for him when Hall helped to open Haven Gastropub in Orange. In early 2011, he secured the financing for what would become Chapter One and approached Jensen to join him; the promises made over crème brûlée and gyrating honeys was finally complete.
The two aren't content with their twin restaurants, however; plans are in the works for a Newport Beach concept, and "if the right situation brings the right opportunity, we'll do it," Hall says. "But we'll never cannibalize our own concepts. And we'll always make sure to keep that personal touch. Whatever we do are pubs at heart—public houses, places where people can go in and be treated with respect."