The Corner, which we were under the impression was still being helmed by chef Alex Jackson, is no longer a restaurant called The Corner, and Grub Street learns today that Jackson has not actually been employed there since August, despite his claims to the contrary. Furthermore, a source close to owner Philip Bellber (Parada 22, Cha Cha Cha, The Corner) contacted us to let us know that there had been some misrepresentation about Jackson’s role at Parada 22 in the press, and that Jackson himself may not even be who he says he is. Now, as The Corner tries to reinvent itself as a venue for revolving pop-up restaurants, and as Bellber contemplates expanding the Parada concept to the Mission, people are coming forward to tell us that Jackson, whom SF Weekly identified as the “quiet empire builder” behind these businesses and who we thought was a partner in them as well, is possibly more of a con artist than anyone knew — with one source going so far as to make comparisons to JT Leroy/Laura Albert.
Jackson became chef at The Corner back in August ‘09, and Tablehopper immediately took note of his high-end, out-of-town pedigree (Fergus Henderson’s St. John in London, Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern in New York). He later remade the menu at Weird Fish, and we first reported on Jackson’s empire building plans back in February of this year, when he announced his plans to open something called Black Sheep Pub in the Mission. No sooner was that project on our radar, but Jackson let us know that he had “partnered” on Parada 22, a small Puerto Rican restaurant in the Upper Haight that has gone on to garner some nice write-ups. We were then curious reading Patricia Unterman’s rave review of Parada 22 last month (which has since gone missing off the Examiner site), why there was no mention of Jackson, only of Bellber — who has been in the industry locally for decades — and his Puerto Rican cousin Gloria Pinette, who were solely responsible for the menu. As we now learn, Jackson’s role at the restaurant was limited, though he did work there briefly as a chef when it opened, and that his claims to being partners with Bellber in SF Weekly were false. As for earlier claims, which he repeated in the same Weekly interview, about his résumé, Grub Street is looking into those, but we’re not confident that those are real either. [Update: See some further confirmation from Bellber himself.]
For the record, we like Jackson, and found him to be a really affable and amusing guy who eagerly followed the local food scene. We even liked his food. He spoke to us several times about his family’s wealth, his former life as a banker at Goldman Sachs, and his plans for Black Sheep Pub. The project, he said, was held up because a deal to purchase Bissap Baobab up the street had hit a few snags. Georges Blum, general manager at Baobab, denies that owner Marco Senghor had ever entered into any serious negotiations to sell the business to Jackson, though they have been in talks with various people over the last year.
We were only vaguely skeptical when Jackson spoke of a second new restaurant he was planning, before the first had even come to fruition, called Sympathy for the Devil — a steakhouse concept which he said had some connection to a business with another Rolling Stones-inspired name, Sticky Fingers Smokehouse in Charleston, South Carolina, that he said his family had bankrolled and where he’d worked in college. But Sticky Fingers was started by three childhood friends from Chattanooga, none of whom is Jackson (Update: A rep for Sticky Fingers tells Grub Street that they have no record of employing Jackson, and there is no known connection between him and the founders). He further claimed that meat for the new restaurant would come from a ranch his family had recently started in the Sierra foothills, and that he was planning to open Sympathy for the Devil in the space belonging to a doughnut shop in between Weird Fish and the Corner, in the same building which he claimed his family had purchased. The building, we now understand, is owned by Bellber, and no such plans for the doughnut shop were ever discussed.
There was also talk of a private jet, boarding school, time at Duke University, and a wealthy father/grandfather in New York who was a big investor.
Last month, via news from Jackson himself, we reported that The Corner was temporarily closed while a hood was being installed in the kitchen. “That’s total bullshit,” says Justin Glennon, the general manager of The Corner who came on, in part, to help sort out the restaurant’s ailing finances while Jackson was chef. “Alex hasn’t worked here since August.” He further explains that they had to shut down The Corner following Alex’s departure, and that it’s been a stressful few months as they’ve been trying to reinvent the place as a revolving venue for pop-ups, beginning with a couple of sold-out appearances by Ken-Ken Ramen. Glennon is now trying to curate the pop-up concept, and Ken Ken is making regular Thursday appearances. “It’s a good partnership, and we think this is a pretty unique idea – a repertory for pop-ups. We’re still looking for people who are running pop-ups and who might like to come in here on a regular basis, and we’re talking to two popular ones right now who should be here one night a week starting after the new year. We’re hoping to do different events every night, and during the day, we’ve got a couple of guys selling coffee and empanadas here, and that’s working out pretty well.”
As for Jackson, his current whereabouts are unclear. We tried to reach out to him to hear his side of the story, but he informed us he was out of town and, as has been typical with our correspondence over the last six months, he put off our conversation until next week, promising we wouldn’t be disappointed with his news once we finally spoke.
Ron Gompertz, who’s been an associate of Bellber’s for many years and who’s currently serving as a publicist of sorts for Parada 22, drew the comparisons to JT Leroy and the woman famously behind the pen name, Laura Albert — whom Gompertz, incidentally, knew in San Francisco back in 1993 when he ran a small record label. “Just like Laura, Alex is clearly talented at what he does. He’s a talented chef, and a big talker, and he had everyone fooled for a while.” Neither Gompertz nor Bellber wants to comment on the specifics of what happened at The Corner, but suffice it to say the parting between chef and owner was tense and not amicable. An initial investigation into Jackson’s identity suggests that the man known as Alex Jackson may actually be one Jonathan M. Jackson, originally from Chattanooga, who has a checkered past and no big family wealth to fall back on. It should be noted that no criminal report was filed with police regarding Jackson, and that the SFPD has not been involved with any investigation.
So as it turns out, “Alex” was likely not a burnt-out banker who staged with Fergus Henderson and bummed around Spain for a while as he claimed, but rather just a guy from Chattanooga who can cook pretty well, and who has made a business of sounding really impressive.
Look for a Parada 22 menu to pop up as a Saturday night feature at The Corner fairly soon, and we’ll let you know as soon as other pop-up tenants are confirmed. Parada 22 remains open and doing a brisk business in the Upper Haight, serving up Puerto Rican flavors to a city largely unfamiliar with them.
We’re now going to try to go back to being a food blog that mostly takes chefs at their word when they tell us about all their big plans.
Earlier: Alex Jackson Reveals Details of the Upcoming Black Sheep Pub [Grub Street]
Opening Soon in the Upper Haight: Parada 22 from Corner Chef Alex Jackson [Grub Street]