Jay Porter and I met up in December to talk about Salsipuedes, the new restaurant he’s opening in Oakland. We wanted to build on the interviews I did with him about his restaurants The Linkery in 2008 and El Take it Easy in 2010.
While my first two conversations with Porter focused on what he and his cohorts were trying to build in San Diego, much of the latest interview was about why he left San Diego. The reasons for him leaving are varied and complex, but our city’s leaders should pay attention when someone like Porter leaves. He’s an intrepid entrepreneur and played an important role in making 30th Street what it is today. San Diego was lucky to have him, it’s better because of him and I’m sad it couldn’t hold him.
Read on for a few highlights from the interview in which Porter explains why he left San Diego and what he’s left behind. The full interview is available on my blog.
On leaving San Diego:
I’m from San Diego. I will always be from San Diego. It will always be part of who I am. But, in the end, in terms of quality of life, I just wasn’t that stoked on where the city’s going, or more specifically, where the city’s not going.
There isn’t much political will to do simple things to make San Diego a good place to live. Obviously, there are people who care, and people who want to make it great, but there’s not enough happening.
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I miss Jay. He is a good friend. I am glad he is going to open a place in Oakland, I will drop by when I am there. I owned my own place for a while. I understand where Jay is coming from on the prosperity side of the business. The food & beverage business is a hard one, at any location. In San Diego, it seems at times to be impossible. The permitting process for average citizens is financially untenable, but not for major corporations. This inequality of access to permitting is killing small business in California and San Diego in particular. A privately owned establishment should be permitted any tools that will allow that establishment to make more sales. I am also a friend of Todd Gloria's. He and I competed in the 2008 election for District 3. I know Todd as an honorable man. That being said, I don't really have an opinion about the Jack in the Box at 30th St. I see that particular development to be progress in light of the building under construction across the street. I think that the appearance of impropriety should be taken out of our governmental system. If we don't want large corporations having undue power over us, we need to reform campaign finance laws. As it stands right now, the corporations have the ability to finance their interests in office all of the time. If you want the average Joe to have a chance in that environment, you have to level the playing field. I think that politicians should only be allowed to accept donations from public citizens, and then only to a maximum of $20.00 each.
The Linkery, I remember that place. Poor inattentive service, over priced and small portioned pedestrian food and a mandatory 18% gratuity tacked on to your bill to really drive the "Suck" factor home. It will not be missed!
Seeing that the council is floating the idea of a $15 minimum wage, it's probably good that he got out. Businesses like his simply won't exist anymore if that passes.
Meanwhile, SFGate headline says "Middle Class Leaving San Francisco."
In 2012, our supply of California businesses shrunk 5.2%. In ONE year. NOTE: That's a NET figure – 5.2% fewer businesses in CA in 2012 than were here in 2011.Indeed, in 2012, CA lost businesses at a 67.7% higher rate than the 2nd worst state!
Our problem is NOT San Diego businesses fleeing to OAKLAND -- or anywhere else in California. Our problem is businesses fleeing CALIFORNIA -- to one of many, MANY more business-friendly states around the country.
It's not the departing retail businesses that concern me -- someone will still offer our local residents their services. But the companies that produce nationwide goods and services must think long and hard about staying in California -- THAT is a problem for our economy. Check out Websense.
Our sunshine is great, but "sunshine" has no value on business balance sheets or income statements.
There was money for public facilities and schools in California before Proposition 13 cut taxes for some businesses and property owners.
@Sharon Gehl Proposition 13 was passed 36 years ago. Time to find another scapegoat for the miserable failure our schools and public services have become...
@Sharon Gehl-- Many use your excuse to rationalize the decline of California under Democratic Party rule, but here are the facts:
According to the SD County Tax Assessor, in 1977 – the year BEFORE Prop 13 took effect (when everything was working great, according to Prop 13 critics) – our countywide property tax revenue was about $639 million.In the 2012-2013 fiscal year, our county treasurer reported real estate property tax revenues of $4.630 BILLION. For every property tax dollar collected in 1977, the county in 2012-13 collected $7.25. And BTW, according to the County Assessor, since Prop 13 passed, 97% of the pre-Prop 13 county owner-occupied homes has changed hands (and been reassessed) at least once.
During that time frame, our county population has grown about 86%, and inflation has gone up about 258%. Hence property tax revenues today are substantially higher than the bloated PRE-Prop 13 year, even after adjusting for inflation and population growth.
I hope the guy finds what he's looking for. Don't blame it on us it's his decision. . Life is tough and you have to keep looking for greener pastures and happiness and ways to make a living.
Ya know, when I made my decision to make my stand and find a way to find a job and live in San Diego 40 years ago, I said that I just could not take Orange County and LA County any more.
I've been successful down here and I now like LA and Orange County, they have a lot to offer in all respects. Great people they are Californians!
But I still love it here.
The grass is always greener. I wish he could just say he needed a change of venue, was ready for something new. I think one issue is that San Diego is huge, area-wise. I think urban San Diego has the heart for the change he would like to see, but the city government has to govern a huge area (and is elected by a wider area). Trade Pleasanton for Rancho Bernardo in his example, and the answer might not be so different. The Bay Area has its own issues, which Jay now gets to discover! Good luck to him.
here's an interesting comparison between Fresno and San Diego ...
called "A Tale of Two Universes - Fresno and San Diego - The Same, Only Different" http://oldguymike.wordpress.com/2014/01/24/a-tale-of-two-universes/
Too bad VOSD removed all the comments from yesterday. I would have liked to hear from others if the no-tip policy at the Linkery affected their level of service and therefore their business.
@Brian Peterson Hi Brian! You probably already saw this, but just in case - all comments from 2014 are still being migrated over to our new comment platform. I'm told that'll be complete by the end of today.
The article wasn't about the Linkery or tip policies, it was about San Diego not living up to its potential. Folks like Brian who advocate for an auto-oriented San Diego, and others who oppose increased density in our urban neighborhoods are largely winning these battles in our city. That's their vision of San Diego's future, and they're perfectly entitled to it. However, one consequence of their approach is that millennials, who have an entirely different set of housing and transit preferences, are leaving San Diego more than nearly any other large city (see table at bottom of article):
Jay specifically mentioned seeing fewer young people, and San Diego lagging other cities on bike lane construction. We can read his interview and focus on tipping policies, or the real issues that define our city's future.
@paul jamason @Catherine Green @Brian Peterson I would be curious to see a breakdown of those statistics by neighborhood - this is purely anecdotal from my perspective, but North Park seems to keep getting more Millennials coming through. The statistics in this article are for the entire metro area.
I also wonder how (if at all) members of the military play into those numbers.
From fall of 2002 until September of 2012 I bicycle commuted every day to work.This is a 13-mile round trip.Exceptions were if it rained (this is no good for the bike) and 6 months when I was recovering from a bicycle vs. car injury—a broken hip.This bicycle regimen also included at least one weekend ride of 25 to 70 miles.I finally had to back off of the bike riding, because of a work-related shoulder injury.Given this bit of personal history, what people think I advocate makes for interesting reading for me.
Anyway, my earlier comment, which was pulled and VOSD said they will post again, spoke to the business practices of the two restaurants.The former owner would like to blame qualities of San Diego for closing the restaurants.My assertion is if he goes with the same business model in Oakland—no-tip servers and offering up items the public is not looking for—his concept won’t work in Oakland either.And to restate something from my earlier comment, I was a customer of the Linkery.I liked the place.I had a really good grilled yellowtail sandwich there once.I hope that cook landed on his feet somewhere else, where he can put his skills to use.
@Catherine Green It doesn't look like the old comments have re-appeared. What happened?
@Jeremy Ogul Our tech guys are still restoring some orphan stories. I'll add this URL to the list.
I agree with most of what he has to say but moving to Oakland?? Probably the most dysfunctional city in California. Even Jerry Brown couldn't fix Oakland. And, yes, I lived there for years.
Another truthful but skewed perspective. All due respect to Mr. Porter and VOSD, El Take it Easy was not a good restaurant, IMHO. But that aside. I agree with Mr. Porter's wise words on the influence of corporations in this city... and the lack of civic responsibility by those with means, but I'm not sure it's much worse than other cities. Please, let's not conflate money with talent. Corporate propaganda pushes the idea that throwing money around is work, but I would expect a little better from an independent outlet. VOSD needs to recognize that there are a lot of voiceless people with no money to eat in, let alone start, restaurants in North Park. Let's put some edge in VOSD, let's get some marginalized voices, let's get some revolutionary fervor. Otherwise you should make it Voice of Upper Middle Class San Diego, and I'll start my own goddamn paper, which will see and give voice to the invisible people who do the dirty work in this city and get kicked in the face from the right and ignored by what passes for "the left."
Another left wing victim who blames everyone else for his failure to compete and be successful. Dude learned history from the Chinatown movie and thinks Oakland has a better quality of life than San Diego. Not sure he can be helped, but maybe he will be more coddled by the politicians in Oakland and he will feel special.
Reads like sour grapes over a failed restaurant from someone who wanted to be in a much larger scene than SD anyway. No real wisdom here, unless you think SD = Oakland.
I live in North Park, and chose to move here in 2007 because it seemed scruffy and experimental and a place to try out new ideas, and yes the Linkery was very much appreciated. After the move to the new location, though, the crowds and incredibly noisy and long wait times just didn't make up for the excellent food, and the two times I went to El Take It Easy was like eating tiny expensive snacks in a dimly lit garage. I felt embarrassed for our server who lent us a small flashlight so we can read the menus. The food--yes, very good. The atmosphere and value-for-money, rather poor. And with the now-many decent eateries in North Park and central San Diego, it's much easier to eat well, if not really well.
But if the grass is greener in Oakland, so be it. Sure it's an edgy place, with a high crime rate, lingering racial tension, and increasing class conflicts; perhaps that's why it's better value for money than boring San Diego. And Oakland's been one of those cities that people believe is just going to become The New Thing any day now for several decades, and it hasn't, even if it has bike lanes and excellent BART service and a nice vista of a pretty city across the bay. Maybe he can really find some there there in Oakland that's eluded others. I wouldn't bet on it.
Perhaps the Linkery would still be in business, if their wait-staff worked for tips. They didn’t. You couldn’t tip them. They were just working for the paycheck. As a consequence, service there was always dicey. But hey, I did get a really good grilled yellowtail sandwich there once. Kudos to the Mexican dude in the kitchen.
The one time I thought about going to El Take It Easy, I checked their draft beer selection. No IPA. How can an establishment which is promoting locally produced food not have a local IPA on the menu? This is the quintessential San Diego brew. Hell, that day I may have even ended up at the Linkery, because they had Sculpin.
You never know: Maybe if you could tip the servers and maybe if El Take It Easy served the beer people want, maybe these establishments would still be in business, instead of the former proprietor moving to Oakland and complaining to the VOSD about how unsophisticated San Diegans are, too uncouth to appreciate the concept of his restaurants. Anyway, I liked the Linkery. I miss it. But, I’m glad I’m not in Oakland!
I brought a quartet of volunteers to "The Linkery" as an appreciation of their efforts. I loved the "idea" of "linkery", but in performance, it was dreadful. The "Links" were not good - no better than Sprouts - and way, way overpriced for value delivered. Baked garlic as a sort of apology for the prices? Please. The beers, however, were the most shocking. I simply couldn't believe the prices. Sorry. Don't blame the community if the prices are so outlandish that you get rejected.
My husband and I enjoy going out and splurging on lunch and drinks on Saturday afternoons. We liked the food at The Linkery and went there for lunch (and took friends and family) many times. According to my husband, who ever they had in their kitchen cooking the fish really knew what they were doing. I even posted a good comment on Yelp for The Linkery...which is something I usually don't do. However, I think they made a huge mistake by automatically adding a tip to the bill. The service there suffered for it. The calculated tips were always much smaller than a tip we would have left on our own for good service, Good servers work where the tips are good. Even a place with great food can't keep us coming back if the service is bad. We quit going and I'm sure others quit for the same reason. That's why they closed.
I remember when Rancho Bernardo started. 15 was still 395 and was a 4 lane road.
Pomerado rd was a two lane and espanola road was extended to the highway and called Rancho Bernardo rd. The new development was called Seven Oaks. It was designed to be a retirement community.
Off of the highway on Rancho Bernardo was a single wide trailer that served as an sales trailer. Bert Ball and another gentleman(name slips me) were the sales agents and My mom did all the office/advertising stuff.
I remember when she would drag me out there (taking kids to work day had a whole different meaning)
Back then Ranch Bernardo was out in the boondoggles, the Bernardo winery was just that and poway was a small horse town.
I remember thinking "who the hell would want to live out here?
Back then development was considered progress. It was considered a good thing.
Some may think Jay Porter is right on the money, San Diego moves at Glacial speeds when it comes to progress, others may think he is just sour grapes at serving up something that got tired because there was a lack of newbies in town to impress with his vision of Hipster food.
I believe in both, but really, Fried Pig's Ears and salads more akin to brush clippings? No wonder.
I'm sorry, but these opinions are not some sort of "sage" advice from a wise old man. They are the opinion of one citizen--he is not better or worse than anyone else. I agree--San Diego doesn't get urbanism completely. If this gentleman wants urbanism, he should consider a different city.
But the real issue here is that the interviewee doesn't like the fact that San Diego doesn't adhere to a very left-of-center brands of politics. That's all it is. Nothing "deep" to "ponder" here at all.
Most of these comments are just complaints about conservative policies (using over-the-top language) in some guise of "San Diego isn't mature enough to make all these 'good' moves." Liberal policies are fine--I'm a Democrat--but just come out sand say "I don't like the politics here." Not suggest 20-somethings aren't moving to North Park and our city is destined to be bad/mediocre because of its inherent "corruptness." The Linkery was a failed business venture. A bad city, that does not make.
Actually, not only are 20-somethings not moving to North Park, but San Diego as a whole is losing Millennials at a fairly high rate. Even "hip" areas like North Park and Hillcrest are experiencing net losses of 20-somethings, so it's not just a suggestion, but a fact. This IS a city-wide problem.
Jay said: "Most of the Southern California cities were started as corrupt exercises in expropriating property for private gain."
Sounds a lot like how Oakland got started.
I'm so glad VOSD published this. (And, no, I'm not related. But I did work for Jay for a few months.)
It should be mandatory reading for local policy makers.
And those who want to raise the issue of the gratuity should also remember that our Dear City Attorney tried to prosecute him for daring to try another way of doing business. Word was that it was (as Jay said in his blog) a "conscious effort to try to stop restaurants from using our table-service-charge business model. Apparently other restaurants are starting to pick it up as well — understandably, since it is a better, fairer system — and the City Attorney wants that to stop." (The CA backed down once the media picked up on it- sound familiar?)
Whether or not you agree with a service charge in restaurants, this is a classic example of why San Diego can be a crappy place to do business in.
Jay doesn't get to complain about some city ordinances and ignore others. Wasn't this article about how well connected people get exceptions made in their favor for violations of minor rules?
Anyone paying attention recognizes that the bay area is ground zero for bad governance. I'm moving back to San Diego from the bay area because I'm tired of being treated like crap for not being wealthy. The big players don't pay any local taxes or support the public infrastructure and small guys are forced to foot the bill. Running a small business in the bay area without a $100 million investor backing you is beyond frustrating. San Diego's issues are minor in comparison. The fact that the city council CAN actually control the local infrastructure is amazingly refreshing.
Isn't this the guy who insisted that mandatory 18% tips at the Linkery made service better, even though the service at the Linkery was notoriously poor?
Not sure I trust him for astute sociological observations.
Jay's comments are incredibly thoughtful and, from the perspective of this native of San Diego who left the city nearly ten years ago to start my business elsewhere, very accurate. When I visit my parents, who live near downtown, I can't understand how anyone under 45 without a tremendous amount of money can afford to live in San Diego. It befuddles me. Jay's comments on the history of development in San Diego are so dead-on...think NTC and Corky McMillan...a long history of politicians being driven by development interests. Rancho Bernardo's sewer system...great line...