From sports fan to sports chef — cafe owner’s fare popular among Stanford athletes
It was fall quarter on The Farm. Stanford football season. After Monday practice, the Stanford football team emerged from its locker room and piled into Jimmy V’s Sports Café just a few steps away. Jimmy Viglizzo, the café’s owner and creator, developed a tradition with the team on Monday nights—a win on Saturday earned players steak dinners on Monday while they watched Monday Night Football together.
“And there’s been a lot of steak recently,” Jimmy said with a grin.
Viglizzo, whom everyone calls Jimmy, grew up in San Francisco and comes from three generations of butchers. After being drafted and serving in the U.S. Army, Jimmy went straight into business at 23 years old. He started four restaurants in the Bay Area, ranging from an Oakland waterfront restaurant in Jack London Square called Ace McMurphy’s to a discotheque called the Piccadilly Pub in Castro Valley. At 30, Jimmy became the co-owner and head of the deli and meat department at John’s Town & Country Market in Palo Alto.
From there, he connected with Stanford. He was a big basketball fan and donor, and his store was full of Stanford decorations. After Stanford students started coming in to get sandwiches, the Stanford Athletics department asked Jimmy to do business on campus, and Jimmy V’s Sports Café opened in 1999.
Jimmy V’s is located on the ground floor of the Arrillaga Family Sports Center, where it shares a wall with the Stanford Hall of Fame. From the outside, Jimmy V’s plainly blends in with the building’s tan exterior and red tile roof. But once you step inside, eye-catching sports memorabilia covers every wall.
Close to the entrance, there are framed photographs of every current Stanford team, men’s and women’s. Jimmy is quick to emphasize that he shows support for all Stanford athletes, not just the stars. Though he certainly displays mementos from the biggest stars. Further down the wall, a framed and signed Troy Walters’ Colts jersey hangs next to a signed helmet plaque from running back Toby Gerhart. Another section of the wall heralds “Stanford in the WNBA,” complete with many women’s basketball photographs. There are framed and signed NBA jerseys from the Lopez twins, Landry Fields, and Mark Madsen on the opposite wall.
One jersey is particularly emphasized in the café’s main area, and it doesn’t require very much luck to guess whose it is. According to Jimmy, it has become a team tradition for players to sign jerseys for him to display once they make the NFL. But in Andrew Luck’s case, Jimmy fondly recalled how the quarterback was such a team player that he had the whole team sign the jersey. “Twenty years from now I’m gonna donate that to [Luck’s] favorite charity. I’m just holding it for him,” Jimmy said.
High on the wall behind the counter, Jimmy has set up two shelves of football helmets. The top shelf holds the six teams of the Pac-12 North, and the bottom shelf holds the six of the Pac-12 South. During the season, Jimmy rearranges them to correspond with the divisional standings. A small piece of paper below each helmet lists final records.
Many Stanford teams hire Jimmy V’s to cater customized meals before or after games or practices, called “Training Table.”
“Well, football is simple,” Jimmy said with a laugh. “Whatever it is, it’s two pounds.” In general, the meals are healthy, high protein, and have plenty of fruits and vegetables. A classic pregame meal for many teams: wheat pasta four hours before game-time.
Jimmy V’s also offers plenty of food not necessarily geared for customers preparing for or recovering from athletics. The public menu features burgers, sandwiches, burritos, smoothies and a variety of breakfast food. “A lot of it is comfort food. It’s short order and super fresh,” Jimmy said.
The wall next to the menu reads: “Teams that eat together, play together, win together. –Jimmy V 2012.”
Quinn Dawson, a current Stanford track athlete, said, “I remember thinking how relaxed it was, the communal atmosphere resulting from the round tables bringing athletes and coaches together as regular people.” One of the first things that athletes mention when asked about Jimmy V’s is the team bonding that’s facilitated by meals there.
One day it’s celebratory steaks for the football team. The next it’s salmon, broccoli, and yams for the women’s basketball team. Another day it’s lunch for guys from the Graduate School of Business across the street. Or a turkey club sandwich for Dawson, who still fondly remembers eating here during his recruiting visit. Or a custom chocolate milkshake that’s “the bomb.com” according to Ming Ya Zhou, a small but powerful Stanford gymnast. Jemari Roberts, a senior wide receiver on the football team said his favorite is a chicken melt.
“The beauty of Stanford is that everybody who goes here and graduates from here all the sudden becomes a part of the family,” Jimmy said. “My attitude is real simple: students first, coaches second, administrators third. My priorities are to take care of the kids that come to Stanford, because they are chosen apples—like when I go to the produce market. This school picks these kids from the rest of country and the world, and it’s a pleasure to serve them.”