We had a chance to ask José a few questions so you could get to know him better. Here's what he had to say.
Washington Business Hall of Fame (WBHOF): Did you have a mentor or a role model over the course of your career?
José: "I have been inspired by so many people over the course of my career, from the cooks I have worked alongside to the farmers and growers who are responsible for feeding the world, to all of the amazing volunteers who have given their time in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, California, Guatemala, and beyond. One person who has been incredibly inspirational is Robert Egger, who founded DC Central Kitchen and LA Kitchen. It was Robert who taught me about the importance of community and giving back – he was the one who helped me understand that the people we help, they don’t want our pity, they want our respect."
WBHOF: What’s the one thing you want the Greater Washington business community to know about your company this year?
José: "My company, ThinkFoodGroup, is continuing to grow both in DC and far beyond – just this year we opened a new restaurant in Georgetown, as well as in Texas, in Los Angeles, in the Bahamas … and we are planning to open in Disney in the fall. And we are also expanding the non-profit I started in 2010, World Central Kitchen – after serving more than 4 million meals in the past year in Puerto Rico, Texas, Guatemala, and Hawaii, we have recently started working on new missions to feed evacuees and first responders at the California wildfires. To me, it is great to have a successful and growing restaurant group, but it is very important to be using our skills and our resources for something beyond."
WBHOF: If you were to create a slogan or a theme song for your life, what would it be?
José: "I would have to borrow my slogan from the great writer John Steinbeck… “Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there.”
WBHOF: If you could choose one person, living or dead, to have dinner with, who would it be?
José: "I would love to have dinner with Clara Barton, the nurse who started the American Red Cross – she would be an amazing person to spend time with. She was an incredible humanitarian who touched the lives of so many people around the country and inspired more around the world. We could talk about her life and her work, and I could understand what drove her – I’ve read that she was super-efficient at cutting through government bureaucracy and would do everything in her power to get the job done. My first restaurant, Jaleo, is actually right across from Clara Barton’s home in Washington – it was a source of inspiration during my early days in DC, looking across the street to a place where Clara launched her mission to help troops in the war."
WBHOF: What do you think is the single greatest challenge facing the next generation?
José: "The single greatest challenge is how are we going to feed everybody who will be on this planet – 9 billion people by 2050. But to me, every challenge is an opportunity! If we are being thoughtful about it, we can come up with pragmatic solutions to feeding all of humanity while also improving the world around us. We need to think about developing cleaner sources of energy, about creating alternative proteins to meat, about eating many, many more vegetables. And the produce that gets picked in fields across our country – why not figure out a way to make those pickers legal citizens and incorporate them into our great country through comprehensive immigration reform? You see, feeding the country and the world is a major challenge, but if we are smart about it we can make it even better for the generation after…and every one after that."
Join us November 28th as we honor José and five other outstanding Washingtonian business leaders at our 31st Annual Washington Business Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Gala!