Bryan – At Jesse’s Taqueria in Bryan you’ll find a tiny taco joint that has got people taking a trip for terrific food.
“I’m gonna get to your heart through our recipes, through our food,” said owner Jesse Ocana.
Jesse is one popular guy and he’s been in the restaurant business since 70’s. Originally from McAllen, he moved to Aggieland back in the 70’s to be a part of a national Mexican restaurant chain. Back then Bryan was a…….
“Very different town. I mean, it was a little town,” Jesse said.
Now, the Bryan/College Station area is booming, so in 2012 Jesse took that opportunity to open Jesse’s.
“I never thought that we were gonna have this type of business,” Jesse said.
The secret to their success is all sorts of succulent comida. While you won’t find many veggies, there is a lot of meat to choose from, and that’s what Jesse’s is known for.
“Every one of them are made in such authentic taste,” Jose Alaniz said. “When I eat carne guisada, they give it to me in a bowl. You know why? Because I like the juice.”
The passion Jesse puts into his food and business stems from a strenuous time he had in the 80’s. Despite his friendly demeanor, amazing charm, and extremely hospitable nature there was a time when Jesse ran into some trouble.
“1985, ’86, I … it’s my dark … what I call my dark past,” Jesse said. “I got greedy. I had my own restaurant. I had a restaurant that was built from ground up, called Ocana’s and I had some visitors from down south. And they sort of painted the picture real pretty, and I went for it. They hooked me in. I went to Mexico, and I talked with the big boys. And very lucrative. Got greedy, like I said, and I went in full-gear. I started selling the drugs. I had boys running around town, the whole county, Austin, San Antonio. I started getting big. I got hooked on the drugs, and you become a different person. Cocaine turns you into a different character. I call it “the devil’s drug,” and it led me into a different world. “
Jesse was eventually arrested and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
“That’s what we have the laws for,” Jesse said. “I got popped. I lost my family. I lost my job. I lost my restaurant. It got rough. I lost everybody. I lost my whole county, everybody didn’t know. It was a big surprise to everybody, a huge surprise.”
While in jail, Jesse had a spiritual awakening and he started to turn his life around.
“I got taught a lot of things in prison,” Jesse said. “It was like a school for education, for religion, and for work. I got back on my feet with them, and they put me back on the road, a prison. They offered college classes. They offered law classes. They offered religion. I got to work for a Catholic chaplain, which taught me a lot. I got back to know my God again. That chaplain played a big role in my life; he got me back to the understanding that we have a God that always looks after us and will always give us another opportunity.”
Jesse was paroled after four years.
“I was very grateful to the DA, to my presiding judge, because, actually, they saved my life,” Jesse said. “If I hadn’t been put in jail, I think I would be here ’cause I was already too far gone. I was an alcoholic and a drug addict, and I was fixing to start shooting up. So, they saved my life.”
He returned to town, asked for forgiveness and started to rebuild his reputation. Over 30 years later, Jesse still thinks about that time, and he does everything he can to prevent others from going down the same path.
“In a way, I think they have said, ‘Hey, he did his time. He’s done his time in this county,’ so I think I’ve earned it from them. They trust me again, and I’ve been good,” Jesse said. “It … my way of living, my way of working, my respect, actually helping other people that are in trouble and drugs. A lot of people have come to me. I have my own children, and I’m hoping that I always can be a support for these people that have families and kids in trouble because I’ve been there, and I know what it is. The drug scene right now is tougher than when I was in. So many children, so many young kids dying in prison because of the stupid drugs.”
Jesse now focuses on the food, friendship, and faith while inspiring an entire community.
“To see how, in the midst of the struggles, he’s built character in him, and this character has built this kind of leadership in him,” Jose said. “That’s what stands out.”
Jesse’s Taqueria is a terrific stop on The Texas Bucket List not only for the tacos, but also for the tale of a man who defeated his demons and returned to society with a new soul full of love, hope, and a spirit to serve.
“I became a real Christian man, like I’m supposed to be, like everybody’s supposed to be, and loving everybody, no discrimination, no color,” Jesse said. “Everybody’s the same. So, I think I’ve done good for my families, for my employees, for my customers. It’s a different world to me now, a beautiful world.”