Dolly’s Hot Dawgs

In more than one occasion I would catch myself staring into the soulless display of hot dogs through a grimy window at the local 7 Eleven and ask the question we all usually ask when grabbing a meal at 7 Eleven, why am I here? What happened to the great American culinary guilty pleasure of the Hot Dog? In the United States alone it is estimated 20 billion hot dogs are consumed yearly, which is why I found it a bit disturbing to discover how hard it was to find an authentic hot dog spot in San Jose. Considering this town is well known for spawning a world famous competitive eater with a specialty in hot dogs it makes it all seem even more piteous. After a look around it seemed like there was no longer a place to get an old school taste of a great hot dog. The Southbay food scene has left the traditional food item behind and under a convenience store heat lamp as a sad reminder of a prosperous time for the once beloved hot dog.

That’s where Dolly’s Hot Dawgs comes in and it most likely is the last authentic hot dog stand in San Jose. Not just a hot dog stand that pops out occasionally at night on a weekend outside of event centers that offer an overpriced stomach cleansing, but one that is out on regular day hours to feed both workers on lunch breaks and anyone passing by craving for a taste of American glory.

Dolly Martin runs the stand herself and she is a character who’s cheerful demeanor is infectious. Always greeting you with a smile and happily available to share a story while you put together your hot dog to your own liking at a counter underneath her umbrella shade. From large hot links to delicious beef kosher dogs, this spot has what you didn’t think you needed from a hot dog. I was impressed so much by the quality I had to revisit on several occasions for a bite while putting together this interview. On a sweltering summer day I was able to sit down with Dolly for a chat.

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Dolly’s Hot Dawgs Owner Dolly Martin

Jorge M Sanchez: I really love your hot dog stand, we don’t see any more of these in San Jose these days.

Dolly Martin: Well they got so many rules on the hot dog stands that it is hard to stay in business. They got so many regulations. When I first started, they didn’t have any of that, it was just some basic permits. Now it is a little different and it’s harder to get into the business. It looks easy but it is much harder these days.

JMS: What is the biggest challenge running a hot dog stand?

DM: For me it hasn’t been a challenge because I have been doing it for over 30 years so I just deal with what comes around. I am used to setting up and dealing with people who are always mostly nice. The people are probably why I’m still doing this.

JMS: How did this all get started?

DM: I was in acting school and working as a secretary at the time and ended up getting fired. I walked up to the hot dog guy who was across the street and I said, “You are not gonna see me anymore!” and he says “Why?” and I explained I got fired. So he says, “You know what, do you want to work for a few hours for me until you find something?” At the time I thought working at a hot dog stand was totally beneath me. I asked him if I could think about it. Since I was in acting school, the lessons were very expensive and I agreed to do it. Two months later he told me he was planning to sell his stand. I didn’t have the money but I sold my Dune Buggy that I brought over from Utah. I sold it at the price the hot dog guy wanted for the stand.

JMS: So two months in you were already committed to it.

DM: Yes.

JMS: What was it about it that hooked you in?

DM: At the time it wasn’t meant to be a living, it was just to make ends meet. What attracted me to it was the people because I am good with people, and also the fact that it was my own business. I didn’t have to be worried about getting fired.

JMS: (chuckles) Right, you can set up your own rules and hours.

DM: Yeah and also when I found out that in the acting world it was much more than just going to school for it, I realized I was not gonna make it, even with the movies I was already in.  You got to know somebody and have an agent. Before I knew it I just ended up running a stand for so many years.

JMS: But it seems you don’t regret it, it feels like it brought joy to you.

DM: It did, I ran into a lot of different people. Like once an entourage of white Mercedes pulled up and a bunch of big guys got out of them. One big guy came up to me and said, ” I am Bubba Paris from the 49ers”. He wanted me to do a fundraiser which I ended up not doing, but it was interesting to have someone like him approach me. He must have heard so much about me. That is just one of many. I put all my energy I had for the acting world into the business.

JMS: It seems you and your hot dog stand is well known from word of mouth.

DM: That is probably from years of just being around. I have a good reputation and that is important for a little business like this.

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JMS: What makes your stand so interesting and different is it’s variety of sausages.

DM: I have 3 to 4 different hot dogs and 4 different kinds of sausages. It really is hard in a small stand to have too many options, but I keep certain things because of the different people who come here for certain items. I got customers who have been coming here for more than 20 years. That’s a long time for a hot dog stand. The people have always been good with me. That’s what keeps me going, how people treat me and they sense I am a person who is easy to get along with and love my personality. I have been featured in articles, TV, and radio over the years. That’s just from the things I have been doing for the business like wearing costumes. I am not wearing a costume now but soon I got my next costume coming, a hard hat with a belt to put the mustard, ketchup, and tongs.

JMS: It is interesting that you were able to insert a theatrical element into your business.

DM: Yes! It is stuff I learned in acting school. And whatever talent I have, I put into this.

JMS: Do you serve people in character?

DM: Yes, occasionally I do.

JMS: What is the most popular hot dog people get in this town?

DM: That would be the hot link. The hot link is the bestseller. But in general all of them are great and that is big thanks to Los Gatos Meat, they are a great company and I have been with them always.

JMS: You source your meat locally?

DM: Yes, it is very important in this busy city to get a product that has a good recipe. The recipe I got for all my sausages was originally from a German who sold the recipe to an Italian in Los Gatos and now the Italian guy is a millionaire. The recipe alone made the meat popular.  They are the only ones I ever used.

JMS: Were you always located at the corner of Oakland Rd and Gish?

DM: Yes.

JMS: What is it about this spot that had you stay for so many years?

DM: Originally I had a spot briefly down the street (points towards south Oakland Rd) but they took that spot away from me. So when Officer Hogate from the Permit Unit Office was retiring and found out they were taking the location away from me he said, “Look, before I retire I am going to find you a spot”. This is where he found the spot and I have been here for 30 years.

JMS: Why were you moved?

DM: Well because they changed the rules which have been changed since. At that time they said I could not be on private property. I went across the street and then a bus stop took my spot away. So here I am because Officer Hogate made it happen.

JMS: It seems you have a huge support from the community, did you imagine being this well known? You were down on your luck when you started and now you are here.

DM: Not at all. Especially with a hot dog stand – having one doesn’t make it appealing. But it is about what you make do with it that makes it; having fun and serving good food.

JMS: Dolly it has been a pleasure talking, I think I am ready for another Polish hotdog for the road.

DM: Good! (Laughs)

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Dolly’s Hot Dawgs: Corner of Oakland Rd and Gish, San Jose CA

Interview Recorded 8/6/18
Transcribed by Jorge M Sanchez
Edited by Ioana Gheorgiu

HOM Korean Kitchen

The aroma of Korean BBQ is distinct and hard to find within the South Bay Area. I can reminisce all day of my warm college nights with 3 Korean roommates grilling pork belly and marinated beef. Pickled side dishes strewn across the table and a fresh steaming pot of rice straight out of the rice cooker. I consider myself lucky to be able to be introduced to such deliciousness early on in life. But after my roommates finished their studies and moved back to Korea I was left to my own devices to find that same taste and experience of Korean BBQ.

I did find a few promising places along the streets of El Camino and Stevens Creek, but never a place convenient enough to visit during my busy schedule that limited me to the downtown area of San Jose. For the longest time, I gave up hope of finding a Korean style restaurant downtown. Until one day while walking aimlessly along Santa Clara street I got a whiff of that distinct smell. I followed the smell to a small establishment and was amazed how modern, busy, and hip the place looked like inside. Now I needed to know if it was the real thing and ordered some food. One bite and it kicked me back to memory lane and I thanked the food Gods for such a place to finally open Downtown.

HOM Korean Kitchen is not like most Korean restaurants. The menu is simply split into 3 sections; first pick your foundation in rice or salad, followed by your choice of protein ( meat or tofu), and lastly you get to pick 3 toppings of pickled vegetables. It is an unorthodox style to the usual Korean restaurant experience but it works and it expands the flavors from its endless combinations. It’s perfect if someone is on the go and on a budget. But best of all, their in-house chili sauce is the real icing on the plate.

I sat down with Owner Konan Pi on a busy Friday afternoon.

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HOM Owner Konan Pi

Jorge M Sanchez:  I remember how this place always intrigued me when it first opened up. This place has such a great vibe with great artwork on your walls. By the way, where did you get the artwork from?

 Konan Pi: Someone donated them.

JMS: Cool.

KP: Yea, his name is Jared Rohrer and he loved our food. He was heading out of town for a while and he had this artwork sitting around. So he wanted to make use of it. So he just donated it to us.

JMS: Can you let me know about the inception of this establishment and why the breakdown of Korean cuisine to a system where the customer has full control of the ingredients?

KP: Of course, I have had a couple of years of owning restaurants. This is the 5th business I have done and the 2nd restaurant I opened. I also worked in other restaurants a lot. Basically I called this place Hom because I wanted my customers to feel like they are in my home and I am cooking a freshly made meal. This is the kind of food I would eat with my friends. That was the basic idea. I cook Korean BBQ a lot and everything in here is made in house. One thing I did think about was how when you go to a Korean restaurant there are a million things on the menu. People were supposed to mix this with that so people didn’t really know how to navigate it unless you went with a Korean person.

JMS: Like having a guide?

KP: Exactly! It’s just a shame because Korean flavors are diverse; sour, spicey, side dishes, all with such great flavors. But it’s not really mainstream. So with this pick and choose concept with the customer a few feet away from the ingredients and being able to see the meat being grilled, smell and hear the sizzle, it felt a lot more approachable.

JMS: This place is pronounced like “Home” but it is spelled Hom with a line over the “o”.  Does that specifically mean something?

KP: It’s funny, because I was thinking of what to call it and all these names were coming up. I am part Korean so I don’t really speak a lot of Korean. But a lot of Koreans have a way to pronounce certain English words to which they adopted to their culture. So Hom with a long sounding “o” is how they actually pronounce “Home”.

JMS: By the way, I mean this as a compliment. But you look rather young to be owning and running a lot of businesses. How old are you?

KP: (Laughs) I am 37.  I have been a server, bartender, worked at Zuni café in San Francisco, I have a lot of experience working in a kitchen. I am originally from Columbus, Ohio and I had a restaurant there. It was a Chinese food concept with fresh ingredients and that was the first restaurant I ran by myself.

JMS: What attracted you to the food industry in the first place?

KP: I guess I kinda grew up in it. I actually never wanted to open a restaurant. I had a spa business in San Francisco and I did that to stay away from the restaurant business. My family worked in restaurants working 80 hour weeks. And I was like, ” I am never going to get involved with the restaurant business”. But the spa business turned out a bit boring; it was all Zen, whispering all the time, calm, and peaceful. I was getting so antsy at the front desk. Here I am surrounded by fire and running around people.

JMS: Why the move from Ohio to the Bay Area?

KP: I fell in love with the Bay Area out here. I love all the outdoor stuff here- hiking, kayaking, and the weather of course.

JMS: I guess your establishment here is in prime real estate too. It is located at a busy downtown street of San Jose and it seems to be in the epicenter where you can reach the students from the University and the employees of surrounding businesses.  Were you aware of that when looking for a location?

KP: I got lucky, I wish I could say I had it all planned out. But I was actually very nervous when choosing to settle at this location. I never lived here. The place was a Cheesesteak restaurant that was for sale when I came down here and sat around looking at the neighborhood. The street can get a little scary at times so I was very nervous when I bought the restaurant. There are City Hall employees, students, doctors, lawyers, and plenty of catering. Yeah, I got lucky.

JMS: I am very curious on how you deconstructed Korean cuisine into its core simple ingredients and what was the feedback you received from the Korean locals who have grown up with a more traditional style?

KP: I would say that the majority of the Koreans who come in here are surprised on how authentic some of the items are. They understand that some of the stuff can be much sweeter. But they are proud to see the Korean culture expanding and part of the mainstream with an opportunity for people to try out the food. I am sure there are a couple of haters out there but they tend to be not Koreans. They would be like, “this is a different experience” and be a bit put off by that.

JMS: How about the feedback from people who never had Korean food before but came here as an introduction to it?

KP: That feedback is overwhelmingly like, “hands down I never knew about this and all the marinades!”. They really do love it.

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JMS: How do you marinate your meat? There is something about it that is a bit different. I can taste the flavor profile of Bulgogi but yet a little different at the same time.

KP:  Yeah, sure. Not to go into a laundry list of ingredients but it is mostly your typical Korean marinade with soy, sugar, garlic, and pepper. I will say what we do a bit differently is that we use an organic raw sugar. I think that adds something different considering that a lot of Korean BBQ use coke, sprite, or corn syrup. So using that organic raw sugar adds a different element.

JMS: Any aspirations of expansion?

KP: Yeah, we are in the middle of opening one in Redwood City in 6-8 weeks.

JMS: Cool, I am real fan of this place. Another vibe I get from this place is having a sense of youth to it.  Does that make sense?

KP: Like our staff?

JMS: More like the vibrant colors and the constant movement of people inside and out. Plus you got some nice calming colors on the walls. Is that something you picked up from your Spa days?

KP: (laughs) Gotcha! Like the décor and everything, yea actually I designed it with my friends. Picked out the color themes and I did the logo design. We do attract a lot of milennials who like the fresh and healthy stuff.  That could explain all the younger people here and it adds to the place.

JMS: Thanks Konan for doing this.

KP: My pleasure.

JMS: I might get another plate to go. I don’t know.

KP: Of course.

JMS: I guess I will.  It’s too good.

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HOM Korean Kitchen: 76 E Santa Clara St, San Jose, CA 95113

Interview Recorded 7/14/17

Transcribed by Jorge M Sanchez

Edited by Ioana Gheorghiu

Chromatic Coffee

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a coffee drinker. I stay away from the caffeine fix, a fact about me that is often frowned upon and labeled by many as being boring, subhuman, and not great at social gatherings. Although partially true, I never really let it get me down. Being a tea drinker in America means to be a rebel against the mainstream culture of art, love, and addiction found in a coffee cup. However, when I walked in at Chromatic Coffee it changed everything.

A vibrant cafe along the Stevens Creek stretch at the crossroads of 280 and Lawrence Expressway. The look of the place, the people in it, the concoction of drinks the Baristas gracefully served-Chromatic Coffee is very much the cool slick social place a cafe should be, where the young hang out, the professionals take a break from the office, and the students hit the books. Everyone is smiling, even at the line and I don’t see that often. I wave of envy engulfed me as the surrounding customers order their lattes, mochas, and fresh coffee. I was ready to betray my digestive and nervous system for that Chromatic cup of joe.

In the end I did not give in to temptation but God almighty it was close. I settled for a hot cocoa, a damn fine choice, I even had to order it twice. I had to speak with someone in charge to get to the bottom of this dynamic place.

I was very excited to sit down with Co-Founder and Manager Otessa Crandell on a Sunday afternoon.

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Chromatic Coffee Co-Founder Otessa Crandell

JMS: This place is really becoming the place to go if anyone visits from outside the Bay Area and asks, “Where can I get some good coffee around here?” People around here usually direct them to Chromatic Coffee.

Otessa Crandell: Aww, that’s great to hear!

JMS: Yeah, I am really digging the vibe here. It has a real zen vibe in its décor.

OC: Even on the weekend?

JMS: Yes, was that part of the design initially with using the combination of cool calm colors and wood?

OC: It was not, this place has been kind of a space in progress for many years, many generations, and many groups of people. I think because this space has had so many lives and filled with several types of people; it is kinda like its own functional ecosystem where it is constantly changing, evolving, and growing. As far as the furniture and the feel of the place, I know at least for me since I worked here a long time and worked for Barefoot back in the day – and I think a lot of us came from this big post-second wave eclectic group of Artists space -we really wanted to keep the positives from that and steer away from the negatives which is often the case with clutter, overwhelming dark colors, and hidden clunky caves. Over the years here it has been only a few of us and we had to be mindful of money, resources, and of “will it last more than a year?” So in the beginning we were in survival mode. What can we get that exists here for people and doesn’t let us go bankrupt? Then from there it was about us figuring out where to get better equipment and asking who were some local craftmakers we could support. Thomas Cahoon actually made the entire bar for us with beautiful wood upfront. We found him through a mutual friend and we had money to invest in his work. From there, the Financial Owner and her husband built these benches and back bar. Our great friend Paul, who was just a regular customer, evolved into becoming our handy man.

JMS: That’s a lot of love for this place.

OC: Yeah, it is a lot of love. Honestly, you could feel the love and energy. It comes from all the people involved having love for the space and each other. They really care for this space and want it to feel good when someone is in here.

JMS: It feels like a community.

OC: Yeah! It definitely takes a village (laughs) I think that phrase is used in regard to children but I think small business cannot exist without the involvement, love, and support of the community. It shouldn’t exist without it. If you have a business and not invested in it personally I wouldn’t want to put my dollars in there.

JMS: Before it was Chromatic it was Barefoot Coffee. Can you tell me why the change and the inception of the concept for Chromatic?

OC: This is a really exciting story to tell for me because many people from the outside don’t know or don’t understand. Barefoot was its own existing company and it was awesome. It was run by Andy Newborn. We all worked under him, we all loved him, and respected him. He really created an amazing vision with a drive to combine passion, coffee, and people. Anyone who worked for him will tell you he was a bit of a wild character. Running a small business can be real hard and unfortunately he had to sell his company. It got bought by a Flipper, someone who buys businesses and trims the fat, strips away everything, makes it all look great on paper but not for the people working there. It was during that time people who cared and loved Barefoot got together and we said, “we got to do something.” We wanted to save this space we cared so much about with so much magic in it. So James Warren actually was the person who had the idea and kinda approached Hiver van Geenhoven, our roaster at Barefoot at the time, about doing this project. That is then where we recruited Patrick Martin , myself, Rosa Warren, and Ben Henderson.

JMS: Hey! I know Ben Henderson!

OC: He is an amazing local artist, musician, and human. It was just the growth of the company. He continues to do amazing work all around San Jose. Plus art and music all over as well. So the few of us started throwing ideas around about what our dream coffee company would be. Then we reached out to James’s sister, Wendy, who was the financial support and worked in tech. She is super business-minded and such a super smart woman. When she joined the project, that was when our vision and people got the support to become the coffee company. In that time while we were doing all that, Barefoot got bought and sold again to a different person. That person and its company pretty much became what it is now but overtime we disconnected from them.

JMS: Where did the name Chromatic come from?

OC: We threw around names forever. There were so many silly ones. We seriously could not agree with a name to save our lives. My idea was Sweetheart Coffee Roasters; we were just all different people with diverse backgrounds. I am a sensitive, loving, community oriented kind of person so I was like, “why not something sweet! The Sweetheart Coffee Roasters!” And all the boys were like, “hell no!”

JMS: (chuckles)

OC: And we kinda almost given up, like what name can we give this place really? It was Ben Henderson, the one who was “Hey, what about Chromatic? It’s every note in the musical scale, every color in the spectrum. It applies with what we do in specialty coffee. Like a colorful scale of roasting coffee and celebrating people in a way it fluctuates a lot.” We were like, ok cool we don’t hate that. Also James Warren was such a tech nerd and applied it to working with chrome metals so it mixed well with everything.

JMS: So Ben Henderson gets credit for it huh.

OC: Ben Henderson always gets some credit!

JMS: Tell me a bit about the coffee; you roast your own coffee.

OC: We sure do.

JMS: And also distribute it to others.

OC: Yes through our wholesale program.

JMS: Can you walk me through the system?

OC: Well. Hiver has worked with farmers for a really long time. He has built some awesome relationships. He is truly a savant. The way he understands coffee is like a science and knowledgeable but let me tell you, not only does he know coffee but he actually feels it too. Like it is a part of him.

JMS: Like a spiritual thing?

OC: It is a spiritual thing for all of us, but for him especially. He is a very talented, charismatic, and lovable person. He has so many ties to different growers and importers. When we were really small we worked with Gloria Rodrigues in El Salvador. That was the relationship that lasted the longest for us and it was so special. She even produces a coffee called “Pica San Jose”. Hiver played a big hand when it came to sourcing coffee beans.

JMS: Are your coffee beans primarily from Latin America?

OC: Yes, they are primarily in Latin America. It helps that he knows how to speak Spanish to build those relationships. We are still too small to reach out to Africa or Indonesia. But it is a future goal for our company.

JMS: I love that this place also has plenty of other things to buy. Like mugs, small plant pots, and other products. Was building a brand always part of the plan?

OC: I think in the beginning we were all just artists, musicians, and people who not only love San Jose but also like to support small businesses. So we really wanted to have some awesome swag that were designed by local artists. Since doing that and fostering that relationship with artists, we got different people offering their designs and product ideas. We try to do either commission pieces, where the artist takes a fee from each item sold, or pay them for their artwork. Through the swag and merchandise that we put on the shelves we get to support local San Jose artists. That is the constant drive to keep offering new awesome stuff. It is also great for our customers to get the buzz and get stickers for free. As long as you love Chromatic, we want to support you in anyway we can. You rep us and we want to rep you. That is why sometimes we offer free swag.

JMS: On the subject of art, every time I come here you have some interesting art on the walls. This place is almost half a café and half an art gallery.

OC: Bean Tupou has worked here as long as I have and just recently moved to San Francisco so we miss him, he did an amazing job; such a major force in San Jose with such a big personality. He dedicated his time here to build an art program and system that is planned to live on past all of us. We had a great foundation to start with. Everyone from Barefoot already put in a portion of what we had to built on, amazing people like Avery and Kate whom we worked with since Barefoot, and had some great ideologies about art. The coolest thing about our program is that most of the art that comes through are local. Some art here can be under-represented like women, people of color, trans, and queer. People that oftentimes we feel don’t get the fair amount of representation in spaces like this. We really want to put them on the forefront and give the people in our community the space to show their art. All of our art that we put on the walls is commission free. So we take nothing and never had to take anything. All of our art is directly from artist to buyer. So if you hang your art in our wall and you sell it, you keep 100% of it.

JMS: Wow!

OC: Yep. We love San Jose artists.

JMS: I also love the area you have reserved specifically to be a standing table. With a sign reading “talk to people and don’t be on your phone and computers here.” How did that idea come about?

OC: (Laughs) That was my idea!

JMS: That was yours?

OC: Yeah, I love coffee. I love coffee shops. I love people. I love the environment. I go to them all a lot outside of the coffee shop I work at. I noticed we had a problem with flow. So I didn’t want people to feel confused or lost in here. I wanted people to talk to each other and engage with each other. I always wanted to do those tables forever, even before we started Chromatic. When we finally had financial backing to invest in Thomas Cahoon’s work, he brought those table to life for me. I was so grateful because they have been so magical. I know the signs can be a bit overkill.

JMS: I dig them.

OC: It is the intention that counts and I want to keep them there.

JMS: Technology can get in the way for us sometimes. We are so used to seeing and talking to people on a screen that sometimes we need reminders to look at a stranger and say “Hi, how are you doing?”
It is even more interesting the location of the cafe, right in the middle of the Silicon Valley tech world and the youthful art community.

OC: We are the freakiest of the pie chart for sure.

JMS: How does that diversity in lifestyles serve Chromatic?

OC: I think I have been appreciating the space as is for a long time. It was always my goal to create an environment where any type of person can exist and feel welcomed. Specialty coffee always had a problem with snootiness. My training was in that area and I wanted to move away from it. Here when people see them selves be represented, it makes them feel like their space too. We accommodate for all types of people. We have a kid zone for families, a conference table for people to meet and work on projects for their company, book clubs meet here, writing clubs meet here, and even have areas for you to zone out and do your thing. It really has become a hub of a melting pot. I do think San Jose is at the core of that. I would make the same coffee as I would to the VP of Apple as I would make one for a nanny. It is also a factor why people are drawn to this space, there is always someone new and different.

JMS: Whatever you and your company are doing is awesome. It is a great example of having both a coffee business and a community. By the way I am drinking here the hot cocoa. It is fucking good. Is there a secret to this cocoa?

OC: I am glad you liked it. Can I be the cheesiest person in the world and say love.

(Both Laugh)

JMS: You got the right kind of loving then.

OC: We do make the chocolate sauce in-house. We use 100% dark cocoa and add real sugar. There is no fake syrups or any pre-made stuff. Plus some organic milk from the Marin Headlands. We are very fortunate to work with some great local products in our drinks. When people come in and say “Why does this taste so good? Why can’t I do this at home?” We just make everything in-house and use amazing ingredients.

JMS: What is the next direction for Chromatic?

OC: We are working on a lot. We are still growing. For the most part we are still a few people running it. We just recently moved our roastery to a new warehouse space. It is bigger with so much more potential. It will become a showroom as well for people to visit and have tours. Of course a small café space will be in front of it. It is located in Willow Glen. At 2nd and Santa Clara in downtown San Jose we are opening a new spot early next year.

JMS: Tapping in to the downtown market.

OC: Downtown San Jose we are coming for you! Although we have been roasting in you for the past 5 years. It is going to be in a beautiful historical building in downtown.

JMS: I will be looking forward for it. And I finished my cocoa, I am going to get another one.

OC: Yeah go for it!

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Chromatic Coffee: 5237 Stevens Creek Blvd, Santa Clara, California, 95051

Interview Recorded 12/11/16

Transcribed by Jorge M Sanchez

Edited by Ioana Gheorghiu

Original Gravity Public House

Beer, the sweet nectar bestowed down to us by the gods. Next to water, it has been ingrained in most cultures since the dawn of mankind. Or at least when the concept of fermentation had been 1st realized. Who could it have been? That unsung hero who had that “Ah Ha!” moment and forever changed the course of human consumption and weekend nights.  Beer has become a staple in any town as a place of gathering. When an adult over 21 ask’s, “What is there to do around here?” that is code for, “Where is the best place to hangout and have a beer?”

In San Jose the variety of Dive Bars, Lounges, Pubs, and Restaurants with a wide selection of beer options are endless. In downtown San Jose one place sticks to mind when I crave for a good combination of beer and food. Original Gravity sits on the middle of the block of 1st st between San Fernando and Santa Clara.  It has a huge menu of beer and sausages that brings a different element in the downtown scene. Every time someone asks me in caveman fashion, “I want beer, I want food, me stay downtown.” I point my finger northbound and tell them Original Gravity is just down the street.

I sat down with General Manager Rob Monroe on a Tuesday afternoon for a small chat about the establishment.

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Original Gravity GM Rob Monroe

Jorge M Sanchez: Can you tell me about the inception of the concept to build Original Gravity in downtown San Jose?

Rob Monroe: It all came to fruition a couple of years prior when the owners met at UC Irvine down south. Both were going through college and became good friends. They always talked about doing something in the future. One of them became a chemist and the other went into a career of finance, but then they became kinda sick of their respective jobs and decided to jump into the restaurant-beer-bar industry. So it was kind of born out of friendship and a common passion and love for doing something exciting that was new in San Jose.

JMS: Is this the only Original Gravity or are there others?

RB: This is the only one we have thus far.

JMS: Is there a reason they chose San Jose?

RB: Yea, they are both Bay Area guys for sure. It was very important for them to open up in San Jose mainly because at the time there was a pretty big and glaring hole in the craft beer scene prior to Original Gravity opening.

JMS: You have such a wide selection of craft beer that is constantly changing. How do you keep up?

RB: I think a lot of it is drinking a lot of beer and trying new things (laughs) but realistically it is just me doing my due diligence and it has become a little easier over the years as I developed relationships to a lot of breweries we serve here. It kinda keeps my finger on the pulse which also means reading a lot of articles and different websites. Also other resources like talking to friends and definitely to our customer base. They are very knowledgeable. Plus what is appropriate for the seasons and keeping it balanced. I am constantly trying to pour something exciting for a beer drinker.

JMS: The demand for craft beer in the US has increased in the last couple of years exponentially. Have you felt that effect here?

RB: Oh yea, absolutely! If you go to most restaurants these days they will have a pretty decent selection of beers. You didn’t see that often 4 years ago, especially 10 years ago. The growth in the industry has increased and we felt the impact. In the course of our 4 years of Original Gravity we had a major expansion because we had to keep up with the amount of customers that wanted to be in here.

JMS: Do you mostly target local breweries?

RB: Yes, I think the demand for local has increased too. You are seeing new breweries opening up in the area. And it has been easier for me in the last few years to get to know these breweries personally. The beers are super fresh and people are looking for that, and they should be, because beer like food does spoil over time. The longer you sit on something the less it tastes like what the brewers intended. I do focus on the local California beer I can get and I want to say at this point it is about 60% -65% of what I order. The excitement right now is domestic but my first love is Belgian beer so I keep a few on.

JMS: I love your menu of sausages here.

RB: Beer and sausages go very well together.

JMS: Oh yes they do!

RB: Sausage and beer is a classic pairing. For us we wanted to do something that we could do within the small confines of our kitchen. It also helps keep people around a bit longer. If you are eating chances are you will want to stay and drink different beer. So for us it was a no brainer. Initially it was us sourcing a lot of local award-winning sausage makers but we have since then started our own in-house program which has been exciting for us. We are making our own house made sausages that give us flexibility to do new pop up sausages for events or special pairings with specific beers.

JMS: You have some interesting selections such as the exotic sausages.

RB: The exotic sausages we source from a local producer who sends over a list we look over it for interesting options. We had Alligator sausages, Buffalo sausages, Kangaroo sausages and some other fun ones. For those who are adventurous and want to go that route we keep the items rotating. Kind of like the beers in a way. You got the standard selections and then you may want to switch it up and end up eating an Ostrich sausage with your beer. The Buffalo is popular, along with the Pheasant, Elk, Duck, and those types of items.

JMS: Have people responded well to those options?

RB: Yea, they are some of our most popular sausages.

JMS: (laughs) Fascinating! Your sauces are just as fucking amazing. Such an interesting blend of ingredients and flavors. Is that also in-house?

RB: Yea. All the sauces were made in-house and designed by our original kitchen manager, this guy named Jerry who moved back south couple years back, and we tried to be as inventive as we can. The sauces are fun because fries are delicious and more interesting with different sauces to dip into.

JMS: You have an interesting design to your establishment. Two bars and an outside patio in the back. Did you find it a challenge with such a wide open space or did it integrate well with your vision.

RB: We were kind of forced to make it work. When we first opened the bar, the front of the house was all there was. The room we are sitting in right now, which is the back bar, didn’t exist because it was part of another previous restaurant space.  So we had a long hallway from the front to the patio, so it was a challenge when we first opened. It was constant bottle necking of people trying to make an order and then making their way to the patio in a congested space. 2 years ago we made the major expansion and opened up more seating in the back bar. We have seen a great impact from it and positive feedback from our customers. Although challenging at first, it has become more charming now for someone to grab a beer and hang out in a more open seating environment.

JMS:  Thank you so much Rob for sitting down with me and I can’t wait to order an exotic sausage right about now.

Rob: Awesome man.

OG sauasages

 

Original Gravity: 66 S 1st St, San Jose, CA 9511

Recorded 7/12/16

Transcribed by Jorge M Sanchez

 

 

A Slice of New York

Pizza, it both unites and divides the country more than any other food item out there. The selections are endless and the rivalries are as real as it gets, I witnessed some intense arguments that began with the statement, “(insert major city or region) pizza are the best!” Sounds petty, but it proves how beloved this slice of Italian influence can be to our diverse culture. As an American, when someone visits your town, pizza is the go to place to try and impress them of what your town has to offer. The real pizza heroes in the USA, no matter what city, are the independently family owned places that got into the business of pizza because it is not something to simply eat. It is something that must be enjoyed.

A Slice of New York is settled on the Stevens Creek strip on the west side of San Jose. Every time I come here it is a new experience. Literally all people of different backgrounds congregate here to get a slice. White collar, Blue collar, Firefighters and Peace Officers, Biker gangs, Punks, Musicians, Travelers, Students, every creature under the sun in the Southbay and beyond. This place is a testing ground for me to bring people and analyze their taste buds, and if this place doesn’t satisfy them then nothing in this world will.

I had the great pleasure to sit down with Owner Kirk Vartan on a nice sunny day and chat a bit about his establishment.

Kirk Vartan.png
Kirk Vartan

Jorge M Sanchez: There are a lot of local pizzerias claiming to have the New York style. However, your pizza, in particular, does have that authentic taste and texture. How did that come about?

Kirk Vartan: Well, I grew up in Manhattan. I moved out here in ’98 and one of the first things a New Yorker looks for is where to find a Pizza Shop, a Chinese place, and how the public transit works. Pizza was always something of a challenge for me to find that I was comfortable with. I complained about it and my friends got kinda of sick of it. My girlfriend at the time, now my wife, also heard me talk about it a lot. I was at Cisco at the time, I was a Global Project Manager and Technology Manager. Cisco is the reason I moved out here from New York, and so for eight plus years I didn’t feel like there was something I grew up with as comfort food. I grew up with pizza, when I was a kid I ate pizza almost every day walking back home from school. So when I decided to leave Cisco, I treated it like a project. 

 JMS: You started in the tech field first?

 KV: Yeah, I never worked in a restaurant before.

 JMS: Really! Never when growing up in Manhattan?

 KV: Nope, Never.

 JMS: Wow, that is very courageous of you. Going from a comfortable tech position–

 KV: A good paying tech job!

 JMS: To start your own restaurant, it came from a need to provide something that was not here before.

 KV: Yeah, I felt it was something that was deficient. Not to say that pizza out here is bad, it’s just not what I grew up with. I wanted a specific flavor profile. There are three basic things that make up a pizza: your crust, your sauce, and your cheese. They are all in an even balance. Nothing is overbearing anything else. Things out here tend to be a little thicker and with a lot of “stuff” on it. I saw a lot of transplants out here, I’m a transplant. I figure if I could deliver with what I grew up with out here, it would be something that people would want. It was something I wanted, and I knew there were people out here who were like me.

 JMS: As somebody who has not been in the food industry before, how did you approach this?

 KV: I started with a vision I had. This San Jose shop, here on Stevens Creek, is modeled after what I grew up with: a stand-up counter only service, slices on- the-go, and it matched with what we had here in a small parking lot. So we didn’t have a lot of room for seats anyway. It really met what I wanted to create,  which was just a little neighborhood pizza shop. I also envisioned the outcome of it, such as eye candy for people walking in to see. It should remind them of New York and bring them back to the neighborhoods I grew up in. The name of the place is “A Slice Of New York,” not a “A Slice Of New York Pizza.” Pizza is just what we primarily serve because it identifies with a lot of New Yorkers. I wanted to create something that embodied that. I saw this as an opportunity to figure it out. My mom in New York didn’t take it very well.

 JMS: No? Why not?

 KV: Well, going from a stable tech job to the restaurant business, which in New York every six months a restaurant does fail, she knew I had no experience in the restaurant business or anything about food service. To do something like this she thought I was nuts.

 JMS: Did she help with the recipes?

 KV: No. She doesn’t cook either. I don’t know how to cook. I’m not a cook. I grew up in delivery and frozen food.

 JMS: So how did you come up with the recipe?

 KV: I talked to my local neighborhood pizza shop I grew up with. “Ultimate Pizza” is the name of the place I grew up with in New York.

 JMS: You went straight to the source.

 KV: Indeed, I went straight to the source. I said to them, “hey look, I am thinking of doing this.” When I first moved out here I told them, “you guys better come out here,” and they responded: “you find a place and we’ll help you out.” He told that to me eight years before I opened up this place. When the time came, I went to them: “Hey I found a place I’m ready to dig in.” So I went there for a weekend on my vacation and they led me into the kitchen, covered recipes, showed me basic principles. They let me interviewed their guys and videotape some of their stuff. They were really generous. I asked them, “What can I give you? Such as a consulting fee.” They said, “All we want you to be is successful.” That was their payment. It was really special. Frankly, that support gave me the courage.

 JMS: Wow!

 KV: The reality of it though, is that our recipe is slightly different here. We modified because the conditions are different. The weather and water is different. We adjusted it for all that. When you come in here, I recommend anybody to get a slice of plain cheese.  If you like that, then you can put other stuff on it.

 JMS: That is the foundation of the Pizza.

 KV: The dough, the cheese, and the sauce. The holy trinity of Pizza! There are people who are Vegan and we can accommodate all that. But, a true pizza has those three components in balance: not too much cheese, not too much sauce, and the dough not too thick. It all comes together to create a harmonious product that we love.

 JMS: How long have you been open?

 KV: Ten years this coming September. Our Sunnyvale location is about five years.

 JMS: I instantly loved the place when I first came in. A lot of pizza parlors look like an actual restaurant where you sit down. But here the kitchen is bigger than the customer space, giving off that vibe of “We let you see us make the food and it speaks for itself.”

 KV: That’s right, that’s a good way of approaching it. In most places in New York you grab it to-go. You can put it in a box, fold it, or simply eat it with one hand. That is why it is so classic in New York. Usually people only have one hand free while carrying something else.

 JMS: Every time I come here, people know each other so well. It itself has become a little neighborhood.

 KV: Well it’s interesting. On our first six months we were open, I met more New Yorkers than the prior eight years I was out here. When we got our first review in the Mercury News, they put us on the map. They wrote a nice review before Super Bowl Sunday and we had lines on that weekend from our doors to down the street. We ran out of product before dinner three days in the row. On Super Bowl day, we were only open for an hour and half. We don’t do advertising or marketing, we rely on word of mouth entirely.  We don’t have promotions or discount programs besides the lunch specials. We really do let the food do the talking. We put all of our value to our product and employees, that is where we really put our money. We take care of that and we believe the customers will take care of the business. We had people meet here and strike up conversations with each other. We had people come out to first dates here, we hade people come out for their weddings here.

 JMS: With their wedding dresses and tuxedos?

 KV: With dresses and everything. It gets pretty intense. We once had a bachelor party here. First dates who go on and later become married, they celebrate their anniversaries here. It’s really cool. I have had kids who I have seen since they were little, we are talking four or five, are now in high school and still come here. So I have watched kids grow up. I never expected to see any of that.

 JMS: Last question, ten years have passed. Since the creation of this place, what can you reflect on the most?

 KV: I believe we elevated people’s expectations on what pizza is all about. That was one of our goals. Education on how food is made, and to gain appreciation of how hard this line of work is. Everything is made by hand, everything is made from scratch. Literally, we make everything everyday. The employees and the team that make up this place are part of our extended family. We invest heavily on them. So much so, we are actually proud to be of a worker co-op initiative to turn our business here into an employee owned business. We are turning over the reigns, if you will, to our employees here. We are on track to do that. Hopefully the first in the Southbay to do that with a brick-and-mortar business. We affected people in more ways than we thought we were going to. We put one guy through college for the first time, the 1st in his family to ever go to college, he supported that by working here. He has been working for us for almost ten years. It’s very cool.

 JMS: Very touching, thank you again for your time. I think I am now going to go inside and get myself a plain cheese slice.

 KV: Ah! It’s good!

Slice venue.png
A Slice of New York  counter and kitchen.

 A Slice of New York; 3443 Stevens Creek Blvd San Jose CA 95117

Recorded in 5/10/16
Transcribed by Jorge M Sanchez
Edited by Diana Sanchez Maciel

Agha’s Gyro Express

Finding an authentic Gyro spot in Downtown San Jose is hard enough, but thank god for this place. My go to place to grab a quick bite in between my college classes and fits right into my student budget. The establishment is snugged right next to the Tech Shop at the corner of 2nd and San Carlos. It provides a great atmosphere to sit down in the shade, breathe in some fresh air, and talk to various strangers stopping by. This is how a Gyro is meant to be enjoyed, it is basically street food in various countries and a place to get in tune with the city and not be closed off by walls. The menu is small with only a handful of items but each punch in a taste for the Mediterranean that will beg the question, can I finish one more before my class starts?

I stopped by and had a chat with owner and head chef Jack Rasuli on a Friday afternoon.

Jack Aghas
Jack Rasuli

Jorge M Sanchez: You have a great location here right next to the Tech Shop, was that by choice?
Jack Rasuli: You know actually we had the cart built and were looking for a place. We were driving down here one day and saw this open vacant lot with nobody parked in here. So we went up to the Tech Shop and we asked them if we could work out something. We got lucky they had a spot open for us.
JMS: Is the cart an extension of a bigger restaurant?
JR: No, what we did is a spinoff of our cousin’s business on the east coast.
JMS: Where in the east coast?
JR: Maryland and Connecticut. He has a couple of Gyro shops, we went there one time and ate. Then we thought we had to bring this over to California. Something to add to the melting pot over here.
JMS: What I love about your menu is how simple it is, only 4 items are on it. You can alternate eating those items and never get tired of eating them. Was it by choice to do such a simple menu?
JR: Absolutely! The biggest mistakes I noticed other food trucks or trailers was having a really confusing menu. They had to tell customers what they can and can’t have. If you give the choice of having a #17 [item] with the #14 [item] it gets to be too much. So, it was by design we kept our menu simple to 4-5 items.
JMS: An item I enjoy on your menu is the lamb. Something about it is different. What is the secret with the lamb?
JR: (laughs) if I told you that I would have to….nah. It’s fresh every day. The technique I use to cut the lamb is quite different than everybody else. Everybody just puts their lamb on a little rotating thing. Which is why they call it a Gyro, because it is rotating meat. I skip that step because I believe people should get everything fresh. I’m not having a hunk of meat rotating for hours, exposed to the elements, use a fancy knife to shave off a couple of scraps and charge you $17 dollars for the meal. No I won’t do that, I could afford to do that, but no I won’t do it because again I believe everyone deserves freshness. All of these other Gyro and Falafel places I go to all have that big hunk of meat exposed to the elements for days at a time. What happens to the meat when they close down for the day? They end up drying up the meat for the duration of the night and then serve it to their customers the next day. No I won’t do that.
JMS: When did you decide to implement a more fresh approach to the meat?
JR: When I saw the mistakes of the other people. When you have that lamb in a rotating device it loses the quality of the oil. Beef is mixed with it, the beef is the only way you can cook the lamb because of the fat. When I turn on the grill the [beef] oil cooks the lamb naturally. I won’t have to add any olive oil, canola oil, or anything like that. You just simply put a slab of meat on there.
JMS: How long have you been in the culinary industry?
JR: For 10 years now. I started in Marie Calendar’s as host, worked my way up to a Cook, then a server after.
JMS: You really built yourself up.
JR: Yea, I was very familiar with the food industry. How be successful in a way with food and how to handle it correctly. Simple things like washing your freaking hands and making sure the food is fresh. When you prep for a person you should really prep for 5-6 people and if you are prepping for 5-6 people you should really prep for 10-12 people.
JMS: Your establishment also provides more diversity to the food culture in downtown San Jose. Was downtown always ideal for you to settle in your business?
JR: It was actually! I grew up in south San Jose. When I went out with my friends we didn’t know where to eat. Everybody gets tired of your run of the mill French Fries, run of the mill burgers and tacos. I figured San Jose would be an ideal place to have the ball rolling in having something different to the melting pot around here. I have probably the most diverse clientele around here from Europeans, Indians, Asian Americans, everybody comes to eat here. Because they know it’s something unique. I think the food speaks for itself. That’s why I chose San Jose because I grew up here and wanted to add something to the scene. I personally got tired of having to go somewhere else to get good Afghan Middle Eastern food.
JMS: Are the recipes Afghani?
JR: It is more Mediterranean with a twist with the rice that is Middle Eastern.
JMS: What type of grain to use for the rice?
JR: Brown rice. Its Mama’s rice, she cooks it every day. All of our rice she handles and we add our own Afghan spin on the rice.
JMS: It seems like it is a very family run business.
JR: It is our own little family owned and operated business. I have my brother working here too. There is no other better definition of a Ma and Pa business than this one right here.

Menu Aghas.png
A simple menu for the people on the go.

Agha’s Gyro Express; At the corner of 2nd and San Carlos (next to the Tech Shop)

Recorded on 4/15/16

Transcribed by Jorge M Sanchez

Caffe Frascati

Caffe Frascati comfortably sits in the north west corner of the SoFA District of Downtown San Jose. The cafe stands out with an Italian flair in it’s design, such as an open outside sitting space to people watch and serving both coffee and alcohol. What really sets Frascati apart is it’s wide variety of local entertainment it offers. From a music open mic and a comedy night to an Opera event and an occasional variety show.

Caffe Frascati is where I got my first legs in Stand up and Music. The community of creative people in this spot have influenced me and it became a comfortable space for me to hone in on my craft. I sat down with the owner Roger Springall on a Monday afternoon for a chat.

Roger
Roger Springall

 

Jorge M Sanchez: How did Caffe Frascati come about?

Roger Springall: Well, I worked in the software business all of my life and I was working from home. My last job I worked from home a lot, which was in the suburbs on the south part of San Jose, and when I wanted to get out of the house once in a while there was not a lot of coffee shops around there. And I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a neighborhood coffee shop near where I lived. Because there [wasn’t] one. That’s how the idea was planted itself.  I thought I’d keep my real job and have a little coffee shop on the sideline. I knew the people from Caffe Trieste in San Francisco, which is the oldest coffee shop in San Francisco, I have been going there for 20 years. I knew the family and I was in there. So I talked to Papa Gianni who was the owner of the place. I said I am thinking of opening a coffee shop and he said I should open a Caffe Trieste in San Jose. So that’s how that started. That grew from a small neighborhood coffee shop to a downtown destination kind of place. I soon figured out I couldn’t do that and keep my real job, I then thought ok I am done with that. I’ll open the coffee shop. So I found this space, it had been empty for 30 years so I designed it and built it. We opened Caffe Trieste for a couple of years and [eventually] I wanted to be on my own so I changed it to Caffe Frascati.

JMS: Was creating it as an Italian style coffee shop always the idea?

RS:  Originally it was just going to be a little regular coffee shop. I used to live in Italy and I used to go to North Beach on weekends for the Italian cafes, those were the kind of places I liked. So there was then an opportunity to have an Italian old school café in San Jose. Because there wasn’t one here.

JMS:  What is it about Italian cafés that attracts you?

RS: I used to live in a small town called Frascati just outside Rome. When I first went in to Caffe Trieste in San Francisco in ’87, I walked in one Saturday and there was an espresso machine, they were speaking Italian, they were churning out cappuccinos, singing Opera, and I thought “my kind of place”.  I used go up there maybe every weekend for some years. I got to know the people in there.  It’s like this place is now, you walk in and you know people in here. I don’t know any other place like that in San Jose, especially 8 years ago. The number of people that know each other just by meeting at the café, that’s what a café is for. It builds a community of people around it.

JMS: Lately, Caffe Frascati has also been part of a cultural center for local entertainment. Was that something you had in mind in the beginning or did that develop over time?

RS: I kind of had it in the back of mind of how nice it would be to have a music component. But I am not a musician, I did not know any musicians, so it was really a case of build it and they will come. People would come in and say, “this is a cool place, can I play here?” And it grew from there.

JMS: Where do you get your coffee beans from?

RS: We work with a small coffee roaster in San Jose.

JMS: So it’s local?

RS: Oh yeah, we roast it in San Jose every weekend. The Roaster and I designed the blend. The Roaster, all he has done is roast coffee all his life. When he was a student he went to Italy on an exchange program and never looked back. He has lived all over Europe and South America. All he does is roast coffee. He came in, I knew how I wanted the coffee to taste like but I didn’t know how to do it and he did know how to do it. We went back and forth and he came out with the blend.

JMS: What do you look for in a cappuccino?

RS: What I hate about cappuccinos in a lot of places is having a sour tasting espresso at the bottom of the cup and a block of foam sitting on top of it.  You tip it up and the espresso comes out, you drink it, and you are left with a block of foam sitting there. It’s so common it drives me nuts! So our cappuccinos are equal parts coffee, milk, and foam. The way we make our foam is we steam a certain amount of milk to taste twice as much and then pour it in high enough so it mixes with the coffee and have the same consistency of a foamy drink all the way through.

JMS: Roger, thank you for the time to talk to me.

RS: Thank You Jorge.

Inside Frascati
Caffe Frascati on a Monday afternoon

Caffe Frascati: 315 S 1st St, San Jose, CA 95113

Conversation recorded on 4/4/16

Transcribed by Jorge M Sanchez