Wallace Baine: Goodbye to India Joze, a restaurant that reflected Santa Cruz back to itself for 50 years
India Joze, Santa Cruz’s eclectic culinary cultural exchange, has closed its brick-and-mortar operation along Front Street, giving way to riverfront development. But there’s time for one last stroll through the colorful history of Jozseph Schultz’s local legacy.
It’s a sad day for Santa Cruzans who like to eat.
It’s a cold and gray morning for those who believe that food can and should deliver love and adventure, in addition to caloric fuel.
India Joze is no more.
Let us, however, resist the temptation to mourn too much for India Joze, the beloved restaurant that closed its doors for the final time on Saturday. If Jozseph Schultz, the restaurant’s namesake and visionary chef, has shown us anything these many years, it’s that he’s endlessly adaptable and he promises he’ll find a way to continue to get his food in front of Santa Cruz’s eaters, though not in the form of a restaurant.
Joze is vacating the Front Street building formerly housing The 418 Project, which is smart considering that the building will soon be bulldozed to make way for development along the San Lorenzo riverfront. Here is where you might want to insert a lament for familiar community touchstones that fall victim to philistine commercial real-estate schemes. But I’ll leave that diatribe to someone else.
But here’s the good news: It doesn’t sound like Jozseph Schultz, the classic proprietor of India Joze, has any intention...
It is, however, appropriate to take stock of this restaurant’s (and this man’s) 50 years of serving Santa Cruz’s culinary appetites and reflect on what this kind of business means to a community beyond merely filling bellies. In culturally rich and ambitious towns and cities, restaurants can often serve as community meeting spots, places where connections are made that shape a community’s sense of itself. That’s what India Joze once was.
In its heyday, from the late 1970s to the 1990s, Joze was in the Santa Cruz Art Center building on Center Street in what was playfully known as “Squid Alley,” a reference to Joze’s relentless championing of calamari as an overlooked source of protein and its general deliciousness.
In those years, Joze was also a favorite place for the city’s burgeoning creative class of artists, writers, poets, and intellectuals. It was an extension of Joe Schultz’s personality and interests. The menu was always one of a kind, a reflection of Schultz’s intense pursuit of flavor across a wide variety of Asian cuisine. But the theatricality of the place — Gamelan shows, bellydancing, jazz, flamenco, dinner theater — often made it the most interesting spot in town.
When UC Santa Cruz was first established in the mid-1960s, the Catalyst opened downtown as a cafe near where Bookshop Santa Cruz is today. It was called “the Catalyst” as a conscious acknowledgment of its mission, to seed a culture in Santa Cruz where the university’s scholars and artists might spread their influences and interests in town. The Catalyst abandoned that specific mission at some point to move into a former bowling alley and become a nightclub, but among the other businesses that picked up that idea was India Joze.
When I first came to Santa Cruz as a young journalist, I remember reserving a few special interviews to conduct over plates at Joze. It made sense to talk to people with big personalities or big ideas at a place that was conducive to My-Dinner-With-Andre style conversations. I had memorable chats there with poet and film critic Morton Marcus, art historian Mary Holmes, and painter Manny Santana among others.
Joze’s openness to art made it a friendly place for those on the creative fringe, and its embrace of all things squid and its celebration of chickpeas always, I thought, contained an element of wry humor. Joze was Santa Cruz reflected back to itself.
Joze was sold, then closed, resurfacing in a much smaller operation on Front Street, but still as an articulation of Schultz’s restless and voracious cultural appetites. Up to its final days, the ever-changing menu at Joze was staggering in its diversity of flavors, cultures, and forms. It looked like the set list at a Grateful Dead show — if you do something long enough, the sheer range of your repertoire can be breathtaking.
“Foodie for the People,” showing the next two Wednesdays at the Del Mar, is a portrait of Jozseph Schultz and the...
As it did in so many other contexts, the pandemic put a crimp in the India Joze experience, given that sending out to-go orders was never how Joze food was meant to be enjoyed. As filmmaker Jon Silver’s beautiful documentary on India Joze, titled “Foodie For the People” makes clear, Joze is about the communal experience, the interplay among the great food, the atmosphere and the company you’re keeping.
But if you think Schultz, with his deep dives into the flavors of the world, is a food snob, nothing could be further from the truth. “I think restaurants are a tremendously valuable public service” he told me. “All of them. Even the ones that are often disappointments. Even chains. They are spaces for public visibility and interaction that can never be replaced by third-party delivery services.”
I might be less charitable to chain restaurants that often bring a deadly homogeneity to communities in place of the kind of personality that India Joze offered. But Joe is a bigger man than I. He gets the difference between eating and dining; one is a biological function, the other a cultural exchange, a relationship builder, a path to broader kindness and empathy.
“My hope,” he said, “is that there will always be restaurants that will be models for teaching the young the values of engaged, difficult teamwork, the imperative of true hospitality, the pleasures of fulfilling civic responsibility.”
I raise my Joze fresh-made chai to you.
Thanks, Jozseph, for everything.