Jimmy Viglizzo is the creator and owner of Jimmy V’s sports cafe, located on the ground floor of the Arrillaga Family Sports Center. The cafe shares a wall with the Stanford Hall of Fame, making it a hot spot for Stanford athletes, coaches and athletic staff. The cafe is open to all students and community members, boasting a wide-ranging menu with breakfast, lunch and dinner specials. As a sports cafe, Jimmy V’s is covered with eye-catching athletic memorabilia, and its walls are dotted by TVs always playing live games or SportsCenter.
The Daily’s Sydney Shaw spoke with Jimmy Viglizzo to find out his story and his take on being such a large part of the Stanford athletic community.
Sydney: How did you get to Stanford?
Jimmy V: I used to own the deli and the meat department at the John’s Town and Country Market. I was there in 1982. I built a relationship with Stanford through this market. We used to be a sponsor and donor; we always had posters of all the teams and schedules, and I would be actively going to all of the games. And then in 1999 I was asked to take over the sports cafe where Jimmy V’s is now located. [The old sports cafe] was not running successfully, so Stanford athletics asked me to operate it. So I opened it up and closed the deli in Town and Country. I came to Stanford 100%, full time. And it has been great.
Sydney: Did you grow up in this area?
Jimmy V: I grew up in San Francisco.
Sydney: Were you always interested in Stanford sports?
Jimmy V: I got involved with them when I owned the deli. All the students would come to my deli, and that is how I built it up. The market was designed with Stanford around it. The aisles were named after all of the Pac-12 teams. The entire store was building the family relationship with Stanford athletics, because that was where most of my business was. We used to sponsor the Sixth Man Club early on. My involvement with Stanford was a relationship that I built.
Sydney: Has Jimmy V’s always been sports-themed?
Jimmy V: Yes, it has always been that way. When I first moved into the store, it was like a cafeteria. Since then, we are constantly improving and renovating.
Sydney: What has been the best addition to Jimmy V’s?
Jimmy V: We just put in a video board of all of the sports teams here. We have every single athlete on that wall, represented in their sport. The best thing I have done here is representing all students. All the kids here are special in their own way. That’s why we serve everyone the same. No one comes in and gets special treatment or special deals. Everyone is the same. My priority is student-athletes and students first.
Sydney: What is the key to your menu?
Jimmy V: Our key is freshness and quality. We always try to update the menu every year. We listen to the kids; we ask them what they want. We recently put in a performance menu with items that we have worked out with Stanford trainers and have marked the healthier options with “Be Well” stickers so that our customers and students know that these are recommended items for athletes. We cook our meats here and carve them in front of the kids.
Sydney: How would you describe your experience at Stanford so far?
Jimmy V: It is a pleasure to be here. I have owned three restaurants and three grocery stores. But once I came here to Stanford, I realized how special this place is. And that is primarily because of the students … I admire how unique they are, how bright they are and how so many of them come from different places around the world. And the best part is that I am constantly learning from them. My cafe is constantly adapting to what Stanford is doing. It is ever-changing. It is so unique, from the students 18 years ago to the students today. Everything is in the now, especially with social media. It keeps me young.
I look at the kids like my kids. I have watched a lot of them grow here. It is a great family. Being a part of it, serving it and seeing the process, is unbelievable for me.
Sydney: Who has been the most influential athlete that you have engaged with at Stanford?
Jimmy V: That is hard to say. I can’t just pick one individual. However, I have Andrew Luck’s jersey hanging in my cafe because I think he represents the best of student-athletes. It was never about just him; it was about everybody on his team. His jersey is signed by every player on his team … that was all Andrew. He came to school with the desire to get an education and to graduate. He had his priorities set straight. We have Olympians here. We have unbelievably talented people here who could get tons of money from just being on a Kellogg’s box. They decide to come to school and say no to the money. Those are special people who can see what lies ahead and not just the now. These people do not grab the early carrot; they wait and own the farm. That is what makes this place good.
Sydney: What is your relationship with your employees like?
Jimmy V: No one ever leaves me because I really believe in treating the employee fairly. We do health care, vacations, sick leave, bonuses, profit sharing, and I overpay scale. I believe in that, and I believe in people. I expect a lot of them, but I also listen to them. And if they have things they need for their family, I assist them. I treat them like they are part of my family. I cannot do this by myself. Kevin [one of Jimmy’s longest working employees] has been with me for 35 years — he started with me when he was 16 years old and now he is my top manager. He is a great individual and I want that example for everyone here. I am lucky to keep all of them. I want to make this environment the best for them, and it seems to work for me because I have had all loyal employees.
Sydney: How would you best describe Jimmy V’s?
Jimmy V: It is a place that revolves around relationships. It is like the old VB show “Cheers.” Everyone knows your name. When you come up to the counter, we don’t hand you a number. We ask you your name and we call out your name. So instead of being a number, you are a person. And little by little we build a relationship.
Sydney: What advice do you give the athletes that come into your cafe?
Jimmy V: I always say, if you do the very best you can, then you can never let yourself or your teammates down. If you give your best effort, then you hold your head high. Win, lose, draw… it doesn’t matter. As long as you put it all out there, no one can ask any more than that.
Sydney: How are you inspired by sports?
Jimmy V: Well, it’s like when the Stanford men’s soccer team lost three of its top players from last season and came back this season to win back-to-back championships. They weren’t supposed to be champions, but the kids gave all they could give. To see what they accomplished was an amazing thing. In sports, if you are expected to win, the pressure is on you. But when you are the unexpected team, it takes that extra inner-gut athlete to play above [his/her] head — that is what the men’s soccer team did and it worked.
That is what makes sports so great. You never know, and that is inspiring to me.
This transcript has been lightly edited and condensed.
Contact Sydney Shaw at sshaw17 ‘at’ stanford.edu.