A Love Affair with The Big Kitchen

by on March 8, 2010 · 14 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Environment, From the Soul, San Diego

Big Kitchen

The Big Kitchen, Golden Hill, San Diego.

PREFACE: Channel surfing the other night I paused to watch the Marriage Ref for a brief moment. It doesn’t seem like a show I want to spend much time with but what little I watched surely had the kind of silliness and daffiness that makes anything Jerry Seinfeld has anything to do with entertaining.

And I owe Jerry a huge thanks for making me and my daughter, Nyla, laugh our rear ends off back in December when we were living in a deep state of mourning due to the loss of a mother and wife. Oh, did we ever need such an evening of comedy for comedy’s sake.

We attended Jerry’s show due to me winning a pair of tickets in a writing contest (about “my experience with a locally owned business”) put on by S.L.O.B. (Supporter of Locally Owned Businesses), a website started by Joe Grant who owns Grant’s Marketplace which serves my Golden Hill/South Park community.

I share this piece considering that my neighborhood is a wonderful area in which to live as is OB, a community I visit often to walk along the beach, to people watch, to shop at the food coop. My dogs, when they were still around, spent about as much time at Dog Beach as they did in our own Dog Park. What I wrote about a prominent business in my part of town could have been written about a number of places in OB.

Here ’tis:

My wife, Nancy, and I, have lived in Golden Hill since the early 70’s, drawn by it’s mixture of people who were of all the human colors and who were rich and poor and gay and straight and artistic and politically and civically activistic, if you will – a community of people contributing, in so many ways, to the making of a better world.

Then along came the Big Kitchen with open arms and we were inspired by how, under proprietor Judy-the-Beauty-On-Duty’s leadership and guidance, this now iconic cafe immediately blended in with our neighborhoods’ vibrant hopeful energy – making it, for us, and many others, from the very start, a place more of the heart and soul than a business enterprise. It was love at first sight.

Big Kitchen Whoopi & Judy-the-Beauty

Whoopi Goldberg, who got her start while working at The Big Kitchen, and Judy the Beauty, owner of The Big Kitchen.

And love has always been what the Big Kitchen has been about. I’ve seen so many grownups and kids who needed a little leg up find employment there. I’ve eaten countless lasagna dinners that have been prepared as fundraisers for progressive organizations there. On many an occasion I’ve met with people there who, like me, like to dine and engage in wholesome debate and community planning at the same time.

It’s been a love affair for sure, filled with so many precious memories. Some of Nancy’s best pictures have been posed and taken within its walls, including a couple of our old pal Whoopi’s smiling face. I’ve had the pleasure of sharing my rhymes and honing characters like Old Antonio, the soul and conscience of the Zapatista Movement in Chiapas, on the Big Kitchen Stage, a theater “almost-in-the-round,” in the counter serving area. And, as a result, the Big Kitchen has played a significant role in the building of schools for children in the Lacandon Jungle of Mexico.

And recently when my precious soul mate passed away, the Big Kitchen, through Judy, got our kids and me up on our feet and had us marching, to a nice beat, with old and new friends, from our home on 30th and Cedar to our old apartment at 24th and A where Nancy and I began our life together. We strolled through Golden Hill Park where our children mainly learned to walk, then we went around the golf course to dog park where our dogs, Jackson, Lolli, and Elsie used to run free. It was there, through poetic words and beautiful songs and the burning of sage, that we celebrated our memories of Nancy’s many contributions to our lives, her unconditional love for us, her giving of herself so selflessly to us and to the world. Even in our sadness we had a good time.

Ah, this love affair with the Big Kitchen has lasted over three decades and grows in intensity day after day. It still remains, after all these years, more a place of the heart and soul than a business enterprise.

POSTSCRIPT: The phrase, “our neighborhoods’ vibrant hopeful energy” sounds so OBcean, doesn’t it? And it’s that energy that’s going to straighten out the likes of the problems with the homeless kids, right? You betcha – whoa, that was rather Palinish, wasn’t it?

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

oBdadA March 8, 2010 at 12:15 pm

BiG KitcheN!


Sherry Engberg March 8, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Nice article!
There’s a lot of interest in Golden Hill lately. This month’s Sunset magazine salutes Golden Hill, especially a mixed use area on 25th St. They list Golden Hill as one of the “Top 20 towns in the west,” even though it’s just part of San Diego.


Goatskull March 8, 2010 at 5:22 pm

I thought this place was in South Park. No?


Ernie McCray March 8, 2010 at 5:57 pm

It is in South Park but to us old timers it’s Golden Hill. I referred to the area in my PREFACE as Golden Hill/South Park.
Golden Hill represents a “feeling”, an “attitude,” a “spirit,” to many of us – much like OB. When we moved there it wasn’t so gentrified, and we haven’t minded the gentrification other than it’s produced a bit of snootiness in some – there was much more diversity a while back; it was more affordable with more characters and color. We chose the area because we wanted to raise our kids in an atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance. And now they can’t afford to live here. But that’s life in San Diego, I guess.


Goatskull March 8, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Haven’t been to the BK yet, but I do hang out in South Park alot. My haunts are The Whistle Stop and Hamilton’s Tavern. I don’t know what the area was like in the 70’s but in my opinion it is one of the coolest hoods in SD. I live in Hillcrest so I doubt it’s any more expensive than where I live.


Goatskull March 8, 2010 at 8:20 pm

Also check out a new burger and beer joint called The Station. It has quite a bohemian vibe for a burger joint tho the food is still not as good as Hodad’s. It has a petty cool outdoor patio.


Jessica Williams-Holt March 8, 2010 at 11:32 pm

Oh, Judy the Beauty, how I love thee and your delicious breakfast food.


Carolyn Morris March 10, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Another great piece which gives us the “tastes”, wonderful “smells” and “feelings” from the past around the Big Kitchen!


Cindy March 11, 2010 at 8:07 am

Thanks for a nice piece. Best to your family.
I’m interested in what you consider “gentrification” to mean, in reference to GH and SP.
I think of it generally as meaning what Rachel Ortiz meant when she recently expressed concern over the Community Plan Update in Barrio Logan. She was concerned about the purposeful dilution of the Barrio’s long-standing cultural/ethnic identity.
I think that in GH and SP, there has always been a mixture of economic, racial, and ethnic groups, none of them especially dominant. The real estate market and City of San Diego development have driven people out and brought people in a cyclical way … forever, starting with the wealthiest in the Victorian era (GH) , and the middle class in SP in the early 1900s. The recent market bubble and burst, on a local level driven in no small part by a lot of local realtors and developers, doesn’t seem to really fall into the “gentrification” scheme, though it did contribute to a certain shift in the demographics.
Your thoughts?
And, are you aware of the present Community Plan Update effort that will affect GH and SP?


Ernie McCray March 11, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Hi Cindy:
Part of my definition of “gentrification” is the attitude that new people sometimes bring to an area that says: “Hey, this place was a mess until we got here, but look at it now, baby.” But I can live with that as there’s still a good feeling in the air.
I’m not sure if I’m aware of the present Community Plan Update effort. Is it much different from the thoughts that were thrown around a year ago?


Cindy March 11, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Thanks for your answer, Ernie. Perfect. I relate to that part of your definition. But it’s depressing with when those people hook up with the City and define what the rest of us must do to implement their vision. That has happened big time in GH/SP, and there are lots of bad feelings. In the air and elsewhere.
A separate issue: The CPU is in progress, will go on for ~2 years. The recently selected advisory committee (selected by City staff) is in place.
Here is a link: http://www.sandiego.gov/planning/community/profiles/greatergoldenhill/index.shtml
Please do look at the “community tour” pdf. It was put together by the consultants hired by the City to guide “us” (the few people who know what is going down) through to the conclusion that the City has stated is the goal: infill.
Scary. If you want more info, feel free to email me.
Btw, I always love seeing your peace flag.


Ernie McCray March 11, 2010 at 9:49 pm

It’s funny you mentioned my peace flag. I was just looking at it today. It looks like it’s been in a war. I’ve got to get another one. I’ll check the pdf out and try to catch up on what’s going down.


PSD March 11, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Another awesome piece, Ernie. I love Golden Hill – some of Christina and my best friends live in an old turn-of-the-last-century apartment house near 28th & B, and the community feel of the place is something I’ve yet to experience even somewhere like OB – lots of great nights around a fire pit in the common area with some poets, some acoustic guitars, some random people gathered from around town, around the world and around life, a lot more than just ‘some’ bottles of booze…


Genie March 21, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Thanks for reminding me how much I love this place! Too long since I’ve been there. That will be remedied soon!


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