I was planning to write this month’s article highlighting the few restaurants where I have had the pleasure of being employed: Harbor House, Ruth’s Chris, Croce’s, Top of the Market and Oceanaire. Then on Monday, January 25th, I received some news that necessarily changed the tone of said article. Croce’s, the first “fine” dining restaurant in San Diego’s now booming Gaslamp Quarter, was closing its doors forever.

Croce’s had been situated on the corner of 5th and F, right in the heart of the Gaslamp. About two and a half years ago, due to problems negotiating with the landlord, Ingrid Croce moved the once iconic Croce’s up the street into Banker’s Hill, hoping a change of venue might bring back the neighborhood feel that the flagship Croce’s had in its earlier days. This is when I took my leave, not wanting to negotiate the terrain of smaller plates and less-expensive tickets. I left so many of my best friends including Sarah Bobier, Bob Palmer, and, of course, Ingrid Croce and Jimmy Rock her now husband. It was not a move that I took lightly for I had literally grown up at Croce’s. I worked there for fourteen years, from 1999-2013.

Croce’s was an institution. Live music every night. Before they closed the Top Hat and Croce’s West, two live bands a night. Croce’s was always bustling... busy, busy, busy. You would be totally slammed and still find a little time to laugh with fellow waiters in passing. We were a family. We hung out outside of work. We supported each other. Ingrid was at the heart of all of this. When I needed to move but was short on my deposit, Ingrid helped me. I was not the only employee that she gave little loans to. She would set up a payment plan and you would pay her back gradually. Do you know of any other employer who does this sort of thing? Ingrid was our cheerleader. When people left because they had other opportunities, finished their degree, moved, she would wish you well and remind you that if things in the outside world didn’t pan out, you would always have a home at Croce’s. I left with a heavy heart and a little feeling of guilt that I was biting the hand that fed me. I love you, Ingrid.

When I heard that Croce’s was closing, I shed a few tears then I YouTubed Ingrid and Jim Croce and listened to the familiar strains of Jim Croce’s music that had been the soundtrack to my waiting life for fourteen years. I watched Ingrid, as a very young woman, accept Jim Croce’s posthumous American Music Award. I watched the VH1 Behind the Music chronicling Jim Croce’s rise to fame and unfortunate demise before he was able to fully realize his success. It was all so sad and even though I knew the story, I had read her book, I Got a Name: The Jim Croce Story and her cookbooks-there is a particularly awful picture of me in one of them, it still touched me that she was able to overcome and thrive after such a tragedy.

The food at Croce’s was Americana; three years later I can still describe the dishes in detail-grilled Swordfish on a bed of toasted orzo with sauteed spinach and a red bell pepper coulis, topped with a Mediterranean green olive, caper and sun-dried tomato tapenade. The unsold chocolate fondants would be devoured by staff at the end of the night. Their Caesar salad is still my favorite Caesar salad. I loved mixing the Quinoa and Kale salads together when I was watching my weight. So many food memories and life memories mix together when I think of Croce’s.

Freaking Croce’s, I am going to miss you so much. I hate knowing that you are not there anymore. To anyone who thought that this was just a Jim Croce-themed restaurant or some attempt for a widow to capitalize on the success of her husband, to anyone who called it “Crotches,” you just don’t know and, sadly, now you never will.