The Birth of Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar in San Diego
I had to find a new profession. Financially and spiritually I needed a job with good people and a worthwhile, fun place to grow. One night I invited a friend to our home to help me write my resume and I made her my blintzas. After taking one bite she insisted she knew what I should do—open a restaurant! I wasn’t convinced, but the next day I got a business license, signed a lease and opened my first location. Day by day I learned about the hospitality industry and when my month-to-month lease was up, I got a call from a friend who suggested I look at a space for rent in The Gaslamp Quarter downtown. I hadn’t visited downtown San Diego since 1973, when retailers and urbanites were fleeing the city for the sprawling suburbs. In fact, it was when Jim Croce and I had just moved to San Diego and spent our first night out on the town together. We walked down Broadway heading south to the Gaslamp Quarter looking for a good place to eat and a club to listen to live music. Disappointingly, there were none to be found. We stopped on the corner of Fifth and F in front of the Keating Building and joked about opening a “Croce’s Restaurant and Bar” to offer great food and live music to San Diego, just like we had done for our friends and fellow musicians in Pennsylvania. But less than a week later, after playing a college concert down South, Jim’s plane crashed in Nachitoches, Louisiana, and that dream was gone.
That summer in 1985, when I met my friend in the Historic Gaslamp District, I recognized the space for rent was on the same corner where Jim and I had stopped a dozen years earlier. Right then and there I decided to build a restaurant and bar as a tribute to Jim and call it Croce’s. I didn’t care that the Gaslamp looked like a scene out of HBO’s “Deadwood” or a verse out of “Desolation Row”. I was passionate about my decision, hooked on the hospitality industry and optimistically, I just kept working. I wanted to build a downtown community like Soho in The Village where Jim Croce and I played our music in New York City. I knew how vibrant a hometown could be, and saw Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Love as San Diego’s sister city. I imagined our streets filled with great restaurants, live music, entertainment, artists and retail stores. Today that vision has come true— it’s hard to imagine how downtown looked back then!
The Growth of Croce’s
During my first three years in business downtown, from 1985-1988, Croce’s expanded five times, adding Croce’s Jazz Bar, a second restaurant, a rhythm and blues bar, Croce’s Top Hat Bar and Grille, Upstairs at Croce’s, and Croce’s Catering and Event Planners. In the late 80’s, I became a board member of the California Restaurant Association, San Diego Chapter and The San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau. I learned a lot from the civic work I did with my community, but little did I know back then that my hard work in building a restaurant and bar would lead me to my wonderful husband, Jimmy Rock, who has been my love and partner since we married in 1988.