You’ve been asked “Any fries with that?” when you order a hamburger. What about a side of blessings instead?
That’s the meal deal with Jesus Burgers, which is simultaneously an address, a weekly event, and a group of people dedicated to serving hungry Isla Vistans. Run by the youth group of Mission Isla Vista, the house on the 6700 block of Del Playa Drive serves up steaming-hot burgers every Friday night for free. That’s made the place a hotspot in Isla Vista, where plenty of weekend revelers are ready for a burger after Friday-night beers. What most hungry attendees don’t know is the rich history and tight-knit community behind the Del Playa phenomenon.
Jesus Burgers dates back to 2001, when the youth group from Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara came to the streets of Isla Vista to pray for the youth. No one wanted prayer, so the undeterred group returned — this time with hot dogs. Eventually, the group switched to burgers, reorganized under the Mission Isla Vista name, and set up permanent shop at the Del Playa residence, which has now been theirs for 17 years.
A typical Friday night for the church group starts at 8 p.m. The 14 residents of the house and another 50 members of the youth group gather to worship and play music, much of which they write themselves. At 10 p.m., they start grilling burgers. Students from Westmont College in Montecito often take on the duty of the traditional ketchup and mustard patterns. For as long as anyone in the group can remember, the buns have always been decorated with a cross of mustard and a heart of ketchup — a subtle gesture, but one that’s had a major impact on thousands of burgers served.
It’s easy to assume that many nonreligious, inebriated college kids would take advantage of the group’s goodwill. Yet many, both sober and drunk, end up staying longer, hanging out by the fire pit, playing music, or even going inside to strike up conversation. This is how their community has grown: with openness and kindness to everyone.
Of course, there are sometimes very intoxicated people who stumble in, and the Jesus Burgers house is always ready with a plethora of burgers and designated “puke buckets.” Altogether, the Del Playa house serves as a safe haven for all, giving out hugs, allowing anyone to use their restroom, and offering rides home.
Across the street is where the sides of blessings are served. Easily identified with a “Free Blessing” sign, the pop-up tent serves as the place where the group spreads their word of God. The people of Isla Vista are familiar with the tent, with even those who do not believe in Jesus often coming in with open arms.
“This is what Jesus would have done in a sense,” said Junior Joseph, a three-year resident of the house, “sharing bread with others.”