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.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

It’s in the DNA of the city. Most of the Southern California cities were started as corrupt exercises in expropriating property for private gain, and that creates a tenor that allows the underlying philosophy of the city to become very selfish and focused on taking.

The city doesn’t have a track record of communal experience or urban experience. It’s never existed here. The city’s not informed by a history of great urban experiences. Southern California just wasn’t built on that.

Watch “Chinatown.” That’s the archetypical story of how Southern California was built.

Even when I was a kid, so much of the illusory “prosperity” of the city has been fueled by land grabs. It’s been politicians taking land and selling it to developers at below market value, who in turn pay off the politicians and develop the land for resale. All without paying the full cost of things like maintaining sewer and water and roads far from central areas of the city.

Does anyone really think the money’s going to be there to support the Rancho Bernardo sewer system in 2060? Because I guarantee you it won’t be. But by that point, the people who made the money will have either been elected to congress or taken their money and ran.

That’s the core underlying story of development in Southern California and that’s shaped our communities.

There are people who are trying to change that, but they’re outgunned by money.

A great example of this is back in 2010, when the city indicated that they didn’t want big-box stores and Walmart just steamrolled through the process and got in anyway. Yes, Walmart pushed that through, but the City Council was complicit. It didn’t go to a vote or anything. City Council just rolled over.

More recently you’ve got the thing with Jack in the Box in North Park. The Development Services department, the City Council, and the current interim mayor have all willingly let Jack in the Box just blatantly violate the development laws that any other business person like me or you would be subject to.

Neither of us could go to Development Services and say, “Hey, I want to wildly violate zoning laws.” They’d tell us to get lost. There’s no way in hell.

Now, somehow, if Jack in the Box wants to do it, not only do they let them, but they help them. And now that it’s happened, no one cares. I wish Todd Gloria would look at himself in the mirror and really ask himself if there was anything he could have done to stop this. He could have.

Like I said, I think it’s in the DNA of the city. I don’t want to say that the city can never improve, but I think it’s a really long process. The progress is not very impressive.

So, for me, I want to live in a place that supports the things that city dwellers value. It’s really nice to be in an area that has a history and understands the potential of what a city can be and what urban communities can be.

Of course every place has its challenges, but they can be overcome if it’s founded with an understanding of how a city can be great, with shared responsibilities and shared resources, with public spaces and amenities, with the idea that people have an obligation to their polis. If people can start with that idea, they can work through the challenges because there’s something greater than everyone is driving at.

In that case, even if things aren’t perfect, you’re already ahead of the game. That’s the kind of place where I want to be, where I want to raise kids or run a small business.

I loved operating in North Park, and I love the people I met. I made a lot of my closest friends because they came to this public space that we created. But at the same time, it didn’t seem like a long-term viable option for the kinds of things that my wife and I wanted to do with our lives.

On San Diego’s brain drain:

When I was working in tech, it was an easy decision to come here. I remember specifically turning down a job in Alameda that paid a little more than I’d get paid in San Diego and probably offered better career advancement too.

But it was really easy because you could get so much more for your dollar in San Diego than you could in Alameda in ’99. There seemed to be a lot of potential here. The tech industry was really thriving in San Diego.

I left that industry in 2005, so I don’t know it as well as I used to, but I get the sense that the industry is not thriving the way it was. And I also clearly see now that you get so much less for your money here than you do in Oakland or even San Francisco (with the caveat that you get less housing for your dollar in San Francisco). But you get so much more for your money in every other aspect of your life in Oakland and San Francisco.

The sun tax has gotten pretty steep. Over the past 15 years, the relative cost of living in San Diego has gone way up compared to competitive towns, but without keeping up with infrastructure. Over that same period of time, how many miles of bike lanes have been created in any comparable city, whether it’s San Francisco, Austin, New York, Portland, Seattle or wherever? Many more than have been created here.

It’s hard to say what the impact of the brain drain really is because we don’t have the data to show it. We can only estimate it based on what we’ve seen anecdotally.

What we could see at The Linkery was people arriving from Place X and then leaving to Place Y. We didn’t necessarily see an increase in people leaving town, but we definitely saw a decline in people coming here and moving to North Park, Golden Hill and the areas that had been previously attracting talented people in their mid-20s. We just stopped meeting them.

Part of that might be due to the fact that I got older and married and stopped going to bars, so I stopped meeting those people. But I definitely got the sense, particularly around 2010 or 2011, that we were getting a much smaller influx of people into the city who worked in the knowledge economy.

What he says to someone who’d say that The Linkery and El Take It Easy just didn’t work and that none of these things would matter if his restaurants had been successful:

Obviously nothing’s that cut and dry.

The city’s not a failure. The Linkery wasn’t a failure. The city focuses on some things and does it well. They do a lot of other things poorly. The Linkery had a real clear vision of what it wanted to be. We were able to be that thing to a certain extent, and to another, we weren’t able to be that thing.

At The Linkery, we always took more out of ourselves than we could recover. So it was always inherently unsustainable. We did it with the idea that eventually we would reach a critical mass where the workload and the money would make sense. But we got older and time became more precious.

That trade-off became worse and worse. It takes longer to recover from grinding yourself out when you’re 43 than when you’re 35. We always thought that if we really love this, then it would be worth it. Well, it got to the point that it wasn’t worth it.

I know people are out there who want me to blame San Diego for X or Y. This is my hometown. I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew there was a limited market for the things I wanted to do. But we made a bet that we could expand the market for the kind of food we wanted to have in San Diego. We made a bet that we could get a certain number of seats filled and a certain number of people working for the restaurant. And we got close, but we couldn’t push the market to the level where we wanted to do it.

And someone else might come in and do it. Maybe I’m not the right guy to do that.

On his contributions to the food scene he’s left behind:

Everything that we get credited with is part of a much larger thing. We had our oar and we pushed it, but there were plenty of other people pushing in the same direction. The ideas of farm-to-table were in the air.

I think we were really good at was catalyzing that energy, turning it into concrete things and creating a buzz around interesting food.

I think Michael (McGuan) and I had a really good chemistry in the early days that enabled us to do something that was pretty transgressive in San Diego back then. I think that created some energy in the city and accelerated certain things.

Before the farm-to-table movement really got started in San Diego with Region, there was a sense that a lot of things that are commonplace in Portland or Brooklyn or the Bay Area just couldn’t be done in San Diego. It was assumed that you couldn’t do artisanal stuff and you couldn’t use really good ingredients.

I think a place like Starlite now shows that you can. They use fantastic quality ingredients and they’re good cooks and they’re making things from scratch.

And you see guys like Heart and Trotter and lots of places that are walking the walk in a way that wasn’t all that common 10 years ago.

I think we brought some threads together and did some really cool things, but there would still be great restaurants serving craft beer in the city today if we hadn’t done what we did.

    This article relates to: Business, Food, News, People, Q-and-A

    Written by Jed Sundwall

    Jed Sundwall is an Internet technology consultant who helps organizations use data, emerging technologies, and clear communication to fulfill their missions. He lives in Pacific Beach and is often found surfing at Tourmaline or drinking coffee at Bird Rock Roasters. You can reach him directly at jedidiah@gmail.com.

    Paul Broadway
    Paul Broadway subscriber

    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. 

    -Paul Broadway 

    Kurtis Strange
    Kurtis Strange subscriber

    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!

    Matt Finish
    Matt Finish subscriber

    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.

    Richard Rider
    Richard Rider subscribermember

    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.

    Sharon Gehl
    Sharon Gehl subscribermember

    There was money for public facilities and schools in California before Proposition 13 cut taxes for some businesses and property owners.

    William Hamilton
    William Hamilton subscriber

    @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...

    Richard Rider
    Richard Rider subscribermember

    @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.

    Doug Veronda
    Doug Veronda subscribermember

    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.

    Doug Veronda
    Doug Veronda subscribermember

    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.

    VeronicaCorningstone subscriber

    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.

    Brian Peterson
    Brian Peterson subscriber

    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.

    Catherine Green
    Catherine Green moderator memberadministrator

    @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.

    paul jamason
    paul jamason subscribermember

    @Catherine Green @Brian Peterson  I'm sad that my Jim Jones blocker no longer works.  I had to scroll past his comment real fast.  ;-)   

    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. 

    Eric Spoerner
    Eric Spoerner subscriber

    @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.

    Brian Peterson
    Brian Peterson subscriber

    @paul jamason @Catherine Green

    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
    Catherine Green moderator memberadministrator

    @Jeremy Ogul Our tech guys are still restoring some orphan stories. I'll add this URL to the list.

    peggy mckeon
    peggy mckeon subscriber

    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.

    whlapinel subscriber

    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."

    James Weber
    James Weber subscriber

    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.

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones subscriber

    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.

    Brian Peterson
    Brian Peterson subscriber

    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.

    Linda Wilson
    Linda Wilson subscriber

    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.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    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.

    John Thurston
    John Thurston

    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.

    Jeremy Ogul
    Jeremy Ogul subscribermember

    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.

    Doug Porter
    Doug Porter subscriber

    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.

    Joachim Boaz
    Joachim Boaz subscriber

    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.

    Eric Spoerner
    Eric Spoerner subscriber

    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...

    Eric Spoerner
    Eric Spoerner subscriber

    He fled to the Bay Area, which is even less affordable than SD.