Jack Mannen: 1935-2009

By Lucas Vidgen

Nature has its own set of signals to warn us of dangerous creatures. Red stripes on a spider’s back. A grizzly bear’s growl. A man drinking beer from a can in the supermarket at 10 a.m.

But every once in a while a creature comes along that defies the stereotypes. And one such creature was Jack Mannen. Jack and his wife Dana came to Xela in 1987. Jack was fresh out of a 20-year stint as a computer programmer for the U.S. Air Force. It was a remarkable career, made all the more remarkable by the fact that Jack was fired six times. Like any good public servant, Jack took these temporary setbacks in stride and just kept turning up, doing as little as possible and cashing his paycheck. They eventually got rid of him by paying him more not to come to work.

In 1997, Jack and Dana started work on Casa Manen, a hotel which Jack, with customary enthusiasm and foresight called “a white elephant”. Twelve years later, the hotel is consistently rated as one of Xela’s best.

Texan to the bone, Jack was never shy about ruffling feathers. He remains the only person in history to have been thrown out of Xela’s annual “meet the US embassy” meeting.

His healthy disrespect for authority wasn’t just confined to his countrymen. In 2005, as the Mannens were preparing to open their Tex-Mex restaurant in the Pasaje Enriquez, the city council slapped a $10,000 fine on them, claiming “inappropriate renovation”. Jack, convinced that the money was destined for the councilors pockets, refused to pay. Work stopped, a standoff developed and Xela’s most famous landmark was boarded up like a construction site as the Mannens waited for the council to back down.

Nearly two years later, the council finally caved in, and a compromise was reached – instead of paying the fine, the Mannens could pay to paint half of the Pasaje Enriquez. It cost a lot more than the original fine, but Jack didn’t care – he’d proven his point.

Jack is survived by his wife Dana, sons Butch and Michael and will be sorely missed by all at Casa Manen and the Castillo family, makers of Gallo beer, who must surely be lamenting the loss of their best customer.

Against doctor’s orders, Jack went out the way he lived life – cursin’, drinkin’ and raisin’ hell. Nice work, Jack. We’re going to miss you ‘round here.

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