5 Questions with Alumnus Jack Jenkins
Jack Jenkins (Information and Communication Studies, ’78) is an entrepreneur who has started many companies in the hospitality industry, including restaurants and hotels, and he also founded a construction company. His latest venture introduces new high-quality, chef-tested products to the food market. He visited campus in April to share his experience and advice with students who aspire to a similar career path. Here, he shares a little more about his story.
Where did you find the courage to be an entrepreneur?
I think that with any type of courage you have to build up a certain level of confidence, and that confidence comes from small wins.
When I was seven or eight years old, I saw that they were selling mistletoe in the stores. I knew we had mistletoe in the trees in my backyard. Because I didn’t have any money to purchase gifts for Christmas that year, I climbed the tree, got the mistletoe, wrapped it in red ribbon, and went door to door, and sold the mistletoe. I sold what was left in front of a local supermarket and over the course of three days made $15.
People were excited to purchase that product because it’s not just about the mistletoe, right? It’s about love and everything that goes along with that. This is what really excited me. Also, it was enough money to purchase gifts for my parents, and I thought “Wow, that was relatively easy.” That was the beginning of my becoming an entrepreneur.
What do you consider one of your biggest professional successes?
In the restaurant business, I was asked to be the dining room manager and partner of a French restaurant in Tiburon: Epanoui. I worked with two gentlemen who studied under a very famous chef, Masa Kobayashi. Usually in the restaurant business, it’s “location, location, location.” In this case, the location wasn’t very good, but the product that those two gentlemen were producing was ridiculous, so I said “I’m all in!” I was in charge of creating the restaurant experience, which included putting together the wine list, training and teaching the staff, the flowers, the printing, all that sort of thing.
After six months, that restaurant was chosen in the top 10 restaurants in the country by Time Life Books. Shortly thereafter, a top food critic in the Bay Area did a piece on our restaurant. The headline was “Brilliant French Cuisine with Potential for Better,” and the restaurant just took off.
What I’ve found is surrounding yourself with great people, listening to the direction that they want to take, and making sure that that aligns with yours is very important.
What at Chico State made the most lasting impact on you?
Probably my greatest experience was joining a fraternity, Sigma Nu. I met these group of people who were so exceptional that I felt like I had to be a part of that group. So that fraternity, which now celebrates more than 40 years of existence on the campus—one of the longest running fraternities at Chico State—was an incredible experience, and my big brother in the fraternity is one of my closest and dearest friends to this day. That experience and what it taught me as a young man—becoming the president of the fraternity, running the organization, being involved with that group of people—was exceptional.
What is your passion outside of work?
The violin, I’m a concert violinist. I was in the orchestra at Chico State—third chair, first violinist. I also soloed with the Chico State jazz band, and I played with a couple groups outside that around the campus.
I’ve played in different orchestras my whole life. When I was a kid, I was in the orchestra and I played football. Sometimes I would audition for a special group in which I would have to play a symphony from memory, so I would memorize a concerto. My dad was a violinist too (he graduated from the famed Eastman School of Music), and whenever I’d go into these competitions, I would borrow his violin. There are three famous violin makers: Stradivarius, Guarneri, and the famous German violin maker, Klotz. So, my dad had this Klotz violin made in 1735. I would always borrow that violin for these incredible challenges, and my mom, a concert pianist, would accompany me. I’d go into a competition and think, “I’ve got the magic violin I’m going to play.”
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self?
Listen to your parents, which I probably didn’t do enough of when I was younger. I thought I knew more than I did. Then what happens is you learn things the hard way. I really didn’t have to go through all that pain. I could have listened to them more and learned more. If your parents have passed away, I don’t think there’s one person who doesn’t say, “I wish I had spent more time with them.”
Also, if you are talented in different arenas, it’s difficult to make a choice which direction to go. There is a small amount that we know. There is a larger amount that we don’t know. But the largest amount of all is what we don’t know that we don’t know. You don’t even know what to ask, so if you can talk to people who know what to ask, it can create the kind of possibilities that everyone looks for.