SJ Q&A: Ryan Summers, Good Karma
Vegan Food in San Jose
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Ryan Summers, owner of Good Karma Cafe on South First Street.
Ryan Summers took over ownership of Good Karma Vegan Cafe, a popular location for vegan food in San Jose, almost six years ago and moved the restaurant to its current location on South First Street a few months later.
While maintaining Good Karma’s golden reputation for fresh and delicious vegan food, Ryan added his own spin on the menu, giving many of the dishes a comfort-food feel. Ryan has also made Good Karma a local hot spot for specialty craft beers, serving a list of hard-to-find brews.
Name: Ryan Summers
Occupation: Owner of Good Karma Vegan Cafe
How long have you lived and worked in San Jose?
Born and raised. I lived in the same house in Willow Glen for 23 years.
What do you like most about San Jose?
The topography is amazing. It’s flat, the climate is amazing and it’s close to everything. It has all the conveniences I could ever want out of a metropolitan, valley-based, almost-coastal city. The people here are inventive, non-pretentious, humble and unsuspecting. I’ve run into some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met when I least expected it.
How many of the recipes at Good Karma are your own?
A lot of my recipes are traditional comfort food from different parts of the world that I adjust to my palate and make vegan. I’ve been vegan for 15 years.
What’s your favorite dish at Good Karma?
I just had a little moment with fresh fried potatoes. But I have to say Pra-ram and the dal. We make all the fresh salads with fresh local greens and black beans from Veggielution. The House Vinaigrette is also made by them.
What inspired you to start serving specialty beers?
I couldn’t go out and get a good beer anywhere else, so I had to bring it here. There weren’t really any places focusing on Belgian or American craft brew to the level that I wanted.
What’s your favorite brew served at Good Karma?
My favorite changes. Right now it’s the Val-Dieu Brand Cru, a Belgian Abbey Ale. It’s a big, complex dark ale that’s got a lot of candy sugars in it. I love the sweet complex to it.
What inspired you to start hosting music nights at Good Karma?
There’s an immense wealth of musical talent, and even though I don’t have a venue that can support a lot of volume or bigger bands, I try to showcase songwriting. To have a small space to showcase the local songwriting in San Jose is immensely important to me.
Where in San Jose do you like to hang out when you’re not at Good Karma?
A lot of key downtown spots: Anno Domini, Kaleid, Trials, Teskes, Black & Brown, Circle A, Red Berry Coffee Bar, and Barefoot, they do a good job.
What’s one thing you would change about San Jose?
More ground-level community organizing and more fluency with the community and how it interacts with its base. I wish there was less friction between the law enforcement and the actual community.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve met in San Jose?
I have to say two people. One, his name is Raymond Andre. This dude is one of the most well-spoken, well-rounded, well-educated, intelligent guys I’ve ever met. It’s like he just walked out of a Dicken’s fair.
The other guy is Mike Fox. He’s also extremely well-spoken, one of the most charismatic, brilliant, down-to-earth dudes ever—and one of the raddest musicians I’ve ever met. San Jose would be a little bit different without them.
Have a suggestion for a future SJ Q&A? Send your ideas to matt [at] blvds [dot] com.