Interview with Jay Porter

Jay Porter, the genius behind The Linkery agreed to chat with Bike San Diego about his thoughts on bikes and urban design in San Diego.

Earlier this year, he sold his car and has been “more-or-less car free” since then. The Linkery is one of the 100 best farm-to-table restaurants in the country that caters to those who have an appreciation for hand made cuisine.

Jay Porter Riding

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BikeSD: Sea Rocket recently wrote about how many miles each of employees traveled to get to work. What  do the Linkery’s numbers look like? How many people bike to work at the Linkery?

Jay: I don’t know our numbers as accurately as Dennis (one of the co-owners of Sea Rocket) does his.  We have about 30 employees, and I know 3 who usually drive to work and another 3 who alternate between driving and biking or transit.  Of the rest, I’d say most people walk to work but probably there are 5 or 6 (including me) who usually bicycle.

BikeSD: For the people that do drive to work, what are their current stumbling blocks to arriving at work via bicycle, walking or public transit?

Jay: I think the status and convenience of driving a nice car is pretty important still in San Diego.  It’s a lot easier to pick up girls when they know you can, in fact, pick them up and take them somewhere.  North Park and 30th Street are a bit of an exception because the urban fabric is such that a lot of young, single people are used to walking/biking everywhere they go out, but if you’re a dude in any other San Diego neighborhood a car is going to really help in terms of getting laid.  And once one part of your life is car-centric, usually your circumstances grow to require it all the time.

BikeSD: In reading reviews of your restaurants, a common complaint seems to be the difficulty in finding automobile parking near the Linkery. How do you address that complaint and what have you done to make biking to the Linkery a more feasible and ideal option?

Jay: That’s hilarious — we are literally across the street from a multi-story parking garage that is open late and is never full.  Not to mention that even on the busiest weekend nights, there is free street parking usually within a couple blocks, always within 6 or 7 blocks.The meme itself — that parking is difficult at the Linkery — shows how skewed our perception is of the world: we actually expect that any place we’d want to go be located in sea of asphalt so we can get as close as possible to the front doors, for free.  And then we build places like that, and they look like Mission Valley shopping malls and the Wal-Mart and Fry’s and Qualcomm Stadium along I-15, and if you have to go there for some reason it’s utter hell.

A place that people actually want to live and go out and eat and shop, on the other hand, looks like 30th Street  — which is why it’s so busy.  And the business are up on the street, right next to each other, no parking lots.

If we want a good city we have to stop thinking that the built environment should exist for the convenience of automobiles, and instead think that it should exist for the joy of human beings, particularly when people come together.

As for making the Linkery bike feasible, we of course arranged for a bike rack to be in front of the building, but even better, all the ADA-required railing makes for tons of bike parking, as do the railings to the bar area.  So I’m pretty sure we’ve never run out of bike parking.

We also really embraced the fact that the #2 bus stops right in front of the restaurant.  When, we were designing the restaurant, a lot of businesspeople and so forth said we would have to wall off the bus stop because it would be full of misbehaving indigent people who would drive off our patrons.  Instead, we opened up the bar dining room to the bus stop, and try to encourage our patrons to take the bus as well.  (I thought for years that the #2 is one of San Diego’s biggest assets and the City and MTS just aren’t exploiting it well.  The service should be continually upgraded and promoted with the idea of eventually restoring the rail tracks it ran on nearly 100 years ago.)

I think biking and transit really work together; if you use both it can make for the same degree of freedom you’d have with a car, but of course with the way better quality of life that comes from not being behind the wheel.

BikeSD: Southern California and the automobile culture seem inseparable considering how much of the living spaces and transportational infrastructure is constructed. What have been your challenges as a business owner in breaking away from the automobile culture?

Jay: Honestly, there haven’t been too many challenges as far as getting away from the automotive culture. (Have there been countless other challenges? Hell yes.) Mainly it’s just required living and thinking as though neighborhood and pedestrians are important, and creating space for others to live and think the same way.  Our particular business — because we work with so many different farmers and so forth — does require that we drive several trips a week, but we keep a car at the shop and share it between everyone who has to run Linkery errands.   That way no one is required to drive to work and we only use cars when we have to move goods.

I note that, in a way, the purpose of the business itself is to help people break away from the automobile culture if they want to.  Before we started this thing, I was living in town but working up in Sorrento Whereever, and I would travel to places like Sydney or London and think, I need to move here, I want to live in a city and walk to work and walk from work to the bar or restaurant and meet friends and have a great time.  But then, actually leaving to move to a “better” city seemed kind of consumer-ish and icky. Obviously the enlightened approach would instead be to try to make the place I’m from better.

So I started a restaurant I and my neighbors could walk to — either if they worked there or as a patron — killing two birds with one stone.  The great thing was a bunch of other people had the same idea at the same time at the exact same intersection, and they put a whole bunch of work into it, and there was Zensei and Lefty’s and us and then Bluefoot and Alexander’s, and “Restaurant Row” was up and running.

That intersection (where Sea Rocket is now, in our old location) worked great as one node on a street that is really becoming a fantastic, world class street.  To see, for instance, The Station and Velo Cult next to each other, across from Citizen Video, these places that are excellently done through and through, and any city in the world would be stoked to have a stretch of 100 feet like that in its midst.  Up at the top, where Jayne’s and Cantina Mayahuel and Kadan’s are, is another great node.And where we’re at now, at 30th, is taking shape nicely, although there are still some challenges here, for instance the parking garage and the bank which as buildings just don’t interact with the street very well.  (However, the dance studio on the corner is doing a great job of keeping things lively in spite of how much the building limits what they can do to engage the street — I’m super impressed with that place.)

BikeSD: What advice would you give to those who are trying to create an urban oasis in San Diego based around people rather than the automobile?

Jay: First envision it, then live as if it’s true, and eventually it will be.
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Thanks for sitting down with us Jay. We look forward to seeing the Linkery grow and continue providing a model that others can aspire to. Keep riding!