Jazriel Ortega has a unique set of skills, ranging from figuring out problems in her chemical and biomolecular engineering courses, to applying the knowledge she has gained so far by working at Williams Café (Wilcaf) in order to open Benny’s Diner.
Jazzy (E ‘20) began her journey at Wilcaf—even before stepping foot on Penn's campus. She’s grateful that she decided to apply for the job during the summer before her freshman year, which led to an interview that landed her the position during New Student Orientation.
“I’ve been at WilCaf since the day I got on campus basically and, yeah, I had no idea what I was getting myself into ... I didn’t realize it was such a cool community of people and that I was joining this little cult,” she jokes, “but I’m very happy that I did.”
Jazzy mentions that most of her life as a second–semester senior is currently consumed by WilCaf and Benny’s Diner, as she is executive director of Wilcaf and the co–founder of Benny’s. Her work at WilCaf mostly consists of making sure that its daily operations run smoothly, with additional tasks such as looking into updating the space or running taste tests when looking for new coffee vendors. As for her work at Benny’s, she is currently focused on getting the diner up and running.
Jazzy went to the Student–Run Business Association Conference with other Penn Student Agencies (PSA) employees. PSA is an organization that houses student–run businesses on campus and focuses on giving them managerial support. At the conference, Jazzy and her Co–Founder, Michael Warren (C ‘21) saw that many other schools had student–run restaurants. At first, they joked about the idea of opening one , but they saw a possibility upon the announcement that Frontera was closing at Penn. The pair then decided to go to the financial assistant for Penn Student Agencies.
“On our drive back we were like, ‘Should we do it? Like, should we try to submit a request for that space?’ And [the financial assistant] was like ‘Why not? What’s the worst thing they’re gonna do, say no?’ and we were like ‘Okay, Debbie we’ll do it!’ and then now here we are, months later,” Jazzy says.
Even though they didn’t get the Frontera space, they were able to get a location in Houston Hall to replace Paris La Petite Crêperie. Jazzy is excited about the spot because of its size, location, and the amount of students that regularly visit the area.
“It’s bigger and everything worked out exactly how it was supposed to so it was really cool the way that it all fell together,” she said.
While it has been an exciting experience so far, opening the diner has come with a new set of challenges. These include hiring new students, training the staff, receiving food certifications, and teaching administrative tasks such as stocking items and clocking in and out. Despite the considerable amount of time dedicated to launching the diner, Jazzy is grateful that they hired an amazing team.
“It’s been insane, it has been so insane. The past couple weeks I’ve been working close to 40 hours a week, just, it’s really coming down to the wire,” she says.
“Like everyone’s so cool, and so fun, that, yeah, we’re locked up for hours like writing manuals and pricing items, but at least we’re locked up for hours with them. So at least we have a good time,” Jazzy says.
Jazzy mentions that her favorite part of her involvement with these student–run businesses has been the people that she gets to spend time with every day. She hopes that, even though Benny’s is a different business concept, the environment among the employees is similar to the one in Wilcaf.
Jazzy mentions that one of her favorite things at Penn is PSA, as it gave her the unique opportunity to gain skills by managing an actual business. She says some of the most valuable lessons she has learned at Penn have been through PSA, rather than the classroom. This experience has helped her through her tough STEM courses and other life problems by giving her “the problem–solving frame of mind” to get through challenges in different areas.
Even though her two words might seem extremely different—that of a PSA employee and an engineering student—Jazzy hopes to find work in the intersection of both areas upon graduation.
“Somewhere in between the two worlds I think would be really great. Something more like product development that works with Marketing and works with R&D, I think is kind of where I want to land,” Jazzy says.
As a second–semester senior, Jazzy has mixed feelings about having to leave Benny’s and Wilcaf soon. Even though she feels relief because the demanding pace of building the diner will soon be over, she’s sad she has to leave it behind. However, she knows she will keep in touch with the other employees to see their progress and make sure she gets the chance to visit both Wilcaf and Benny’s when she returns as an alumna during homecoming.
“It’s heartbreaking, I got really sad when we went to the menu tasting because everything was so good and i was like, ‘Ugh I would’ve eaten this every day for the last four years, and I’m gonna get it for two months and then I’m leaving,’” Jazzy says.
“I will definitely come back for homecoming and go to Benny’s and WilCaf.”