Esteban: Jay, The Linkery has garnered national acclaim as a leader in farm-to-table restaurants. El Take it Easy has quickly become my favorite place to grab a bite. What brought you to this work?
Jay: It started with a desire to help make the neighborhoods I live in–Golden Hill, South Park, North Park, the rest of the mesa here–as great as similarly structured neighborhoods you might see in Sydney, Chicago, or Portland. In those cities, neighborhoods like ours are vibrant, full of life. Whereas the retail strips on 30th St. and others were just really bombed out. But you could see the potential, the bones of the old streetcar neighborhood. At first I had grand ideas about trying to coordinate some big project, and then it became clear to me what the neighborhoods here really needed were good, pedestrian-based businesses. So I (in concert with a lot of other people) started one.
I chose food because a certain kind of thoughtful bistro was really missing from our neighborhood, and because restaurants are natural third places, which get people out of their houses and onto the street and into the public space.
Esteban: From our conversations and in reading your blog, it's clear to me that your interests go beyond cultivating food justice at the dining table. What are the larger goals of your efforts?
Jay: I want to help revitalize the city core in a meaningful way, not just in a shiny-new-buildings kind of way. I want to create a compelling case for keeping our dollars local and build a strong local economy, because that is so beneficial to the community. I want to help develop city neighborhoods with the best possible quality of life, that are joyous places where people exchange meaningful ideas and goods and are mutually better-off for it. I want to help develop a place robust enough to withstand the economic shocks we are facing, when resources like oil and water and industrial food, that we have built our society on, become rare enough that we can't depend on their constant availability.
Esteban: You have two very different undergraduate degrees--one from Cal and one from USD. How did a liberal arts experience shape your work and your business?
Jay: Everything you'd ever hear from a management guru, you'll find hundreds of years earlier in great books or art. The study of people, and what moves us is something that, in the end, you can understand better through history and literature than through any other means. I can't tell you how many times we've been working through a problem at work, and my understanding of the problem is made so much easier by reviewing something I learned through studying the liberal arts.
I mean, once you've read the Melian Dialogue, you can pretty much understand what Wal-Mart or Monsanto is going to do without being too stressed about it.
Esteban: You came to USD as a non-traditional student. What were the challenges and advantages that came with being a bit older than most of the students in your classes?
Jay: I've been in that situation a couple times in my life, and the advantage I always noticed was that, having been in a situation in my early 20s where I had some jobs that were pretty demanding, I was way better at budgeting my time and staying on focus than folks who had only been students. I didn't watch TV while studying, that sort of thing. The challenge was that, at 26 or so, I was an outsider among juniors and seniors at USD, and that definitely made it harder to develop the kind of camaraderie and friendships that are an important part of college (and of careers after college).
Esteban: We have discussed how everyday practices like mass transit, walking and cycling (rather than firing up an internal combustion engine to get around) as well as making thoughtful choices about food can lead to large scale change and develop a more sustainable culture and economy. What do you think prevents people from making these changes, and what advice to you have for USD students who want to create a more livable world when they graduate?
Jay: Well, most people are pretty much ruled by their lizard brain–they want lots of stuff and they want it cheap. They drive because they want to be able to get where they want to go immediately. They want greasy salty fast food cause it sparks the pleasure centers. Who hasn't ever lived a life controlled by the lizard brain? I certainly have. But the catch is, it makes us miserable. But some folks make a profit off of it, so there are constantly messages telling us, if we just buy the next thing, or eat the next burger or whatever, we'll feel better and attractive people will mate with us. So we do it, and we don't feel better.
On the other hand, there is nearly infinite joy to be found in the slow pace, in walking instead of driving, in spending time instead of money, in thoughtful work and in conversation with friends. In eating food you made yourself, or that you or your friends grew and shared over a table with no hurry. My advice, first of all, is to get rid of your TV and car, and move to a neighborhood where there's enough going on that you can walk or ride places and that you don't need a TV to keep you company. And get a dog, a friendly one.
The most reliable measurement of unhappiness in a community is the number of minutes spent in a car each day–the more time people spend in cars, the more unhappy they are, even the people–perhaps especially the people–who go to government meetings and demand more roads, more parking spaces, and less mass transit and less bike lanes. But the research is done: if you want to be happy, don't get in a car. Don't go through a drive-through. Walk somewhere and talk to somebody.
- Anne Malinoski '11 contributed to this story