The Joe behind Joze: New ‘Foodie’ doc pays tribute to a Santa Cruz culinary legend
“Foodie for the People,” showing the next two Wednesdays at the Del Mar, is a portrait of Jozseph Schultz and the community he helped create in Santa Cruz both inside his India Joze restaurant and among those less fortunate.
You could point the finger at McDonald’s, or television, or food fetishism, or any number of atomizing trends in this ruthless post-capitalist culture of ours, but Americans seem to have largely forgotten the community-building character of restaurants. Ideally, a restaurant provides a social context and opportunities to develop relationships that can be every bit as nourishing as the meals it serves.
For decades, Santa Cruz has been fortunate to have a living embodiment of that ethic. He’s Jozseph Schultz, the eccentrically spelled namesake of India Joze, the longtime Front Street eatery, the cozy size of which is in direct inverse proportion to its influence in Santa Cruz food history.
At 70, and after close to 50 years in business as a Santa Cruz chef, restaurateur, activist, and all-around bon vivant, Schultz is now at the center of an upwelling of community love and respect, thanks to the release of a vivacious new documentary by local filmmaker Jon Silver called “Foodie for the People.” The film will be shown at the Del Mar Theatre in Santa Cruz on consecutive Wednesdays: Oct. 27 (already sold out) and Nov. 3.
“Foodie” is a rich portrait of Schultz and the community he helped create, both from the kitchen at India Joze and as a tireless laborer in feeding those who can’t afford to eat at restaurants. It dives into Schultz’s wide-ranging and sophisticated philosophies and attitudes about food, dips into India Joze’s history as a cultural hot spot in the 1980s and ’90s, and delves into the tight-knit community that has coexisted at Joze for years.
In the film, longtime Santa Cruz food writer Christina Waters refers to Schultz’s “sorcery” in the kitchen, a reference to his embrace of flavors and traditions from an enormous swath of the globe, from the Middle East to Southeast Asia (his restaurant could just have easily been called “Persia Joze” or “Java Joze”). In his efforts to make “the really exotic taste normal and the normal taste really exotic,” Schultz has always sought that ideal balance among what he identifies as the six elements of taste (sweet, salty, bitter, oily, tart, hot), often using flavors like tamarind and rosewater ignored by the Western industrial food system. India Joze has long been famous for its chutney bar, allowing curious eaters to experience what Schultz calls “extreme flavors” at their own speed.
Silver considered himself a fan and regular at India Joze when he first embarked on his documentary in 2018, though he was as much captivated by the sociology surrounding Joze as he was by its food.
“I was just struck by the entirety of the cuisine, and the kind of cultural and artistic and social scene revolving around India Joze,” said Silver.
For more than a decade, India Joze has occupied a space adjacent to the dance studio at the 418 Project (indeed, the two entities have shared a street address). However vibrant and lively Joze is today, it represents a significant downsizing from the restaurant’s heady golden era, when Schultz oversaw a staff of up to 80 people at his roomy dining room in the Santa Cruz Art Center building on Center Street. It’s difficult to overstate Joze’s role as a meeting place and rendezvous point for the city’s cultural creatives, artistic heavyweights and political activists, as well as a comfortable and natural extension for UC Santa Cruz’s faculty and students downtown. “Foodie” even drops in on a reunion of former staffers and customers from Joze’s glory days.
“It was a major cultural, and countercultural, artistic force in Santa Cruz,” Silver said of the restaurant’s heyday in the ’80s and ’90s. “I mean, I run into so many people who say, ‘Oh, yeah, India Joze, I got married there,’ or, ‘he catered my wedding or my 21st birthday.’”
Joze’s annual Calamari Festival was a big day on the city’s social calendar, and it served much the same function as the old Catalyst did in the early days of UCSC, that spot downtown that attracted creatives, progressives and freethinkers of all kinds.
“People saw it as the place to be in Santa Cruz for many things,” said Silver. “The art and culture, some of it was edgy. So it was a whole scene. You know, one person in the film describes when something was happening, like a demonstration or encounter at the university, then afterwards, people would gather at India Joze.”
As celebratory as it is, there is a slightly mournful tone that runs through the film as well, as it acknowledges that India Joze as it exists today is likely to cease operations at Front Street as early as January (the building is in the center of plans for riverfront development, and Joze’s lease was not renewed). Schultz said that although he is unlikely to open another restaurant spot again, he’ll continue on in private catering (in between the closing of the Center Street restaurant and the much smaller Front Street space, Schultz ran a successful catering arm of India Joze). He’ll also continue to volunteer for groups like Food Not Bombs and cook at the annual Thanksgiving Day meal at the Veterans Memorial Building in Santa Cruz to feed the hungry.
Schultz told me he also plans to establish a “teaching kitchen” sometime after the closing of Front Street so he can “share in depth with the techniques, histories and social backgrounds of the various foods and cooking styles I love with people I can actually talk to more than in passing. But I am going to miss having a restaurant, and I think Santa Cruz is going to miss having an India Joze.”
“Foodie for the People” comes along just as Schultz again is set to reinvent himself and works as a touching tribute to a man whose life and hard work are convincing testament to his commitment to the restaurateur’s ideal, as expressed in the India Joze dictum “May All Be Fed.”
“He’s a legend in this town,” said Silver. “And I’m just glad I was able to capture some pieces of that, and pay tribute to not just Joe but the whole India Joze phenomenon, and its relationship and impact on a changing Santa Cruz decades. It’s a swan song for one part of Joe’s life, but it’s exciting to think about what’s next.”
Jon Silver’s “Foodie For the People” will be presented at the Del Mar in Santa Cruz on Wednesday and again on Nov. 3. The screenings are free, but registration is required.