What was the biggest challenge in opening your own business?
I guess the biggest challenge was the controversy that happened after we opened. We were trying to open a business, but then the mental health community came down on us. What they didn’t understand was there was a lot of irony and satire in the theme of Psycho Donuts. We were never out to offend anyone, we were trying to start a unique business. But these groups came in and demanded that we essentially change everything about Psycho Donuts that made it unique. The name, products, everything about it. And the distraction of that became overwhelming.
We had protestors in front of our store. The last one started out with a march through the city of Campbell that ended in front of my store, and at that point the news went from being local to international. We were a part of the top ten search terms in Google one week, up there with Paula Abdul doing something crazy on American Idol. That was fascinating because as negative as the publicity was, the visibility was amazing.
And so right about that time, my phone range twice at the same time. One call was from Fox Business News and the other was from ABC News. All at once everyone wanted me to be on national TV talking about this. It was overwhelming at the time because we still didn’t know much about running the shop, but almost 100 percent of my time was spent dealing with the media and press attention. There were about 40 days in a row I was on radio stations across the country.
It was an exciting time, but it there were also some negative overtones that had to do with the controversy. I ultimately made the decision that the controversy was a negative thing and I didn’t want that to persist, so I sat down with some of the top people in the mental health organizations and we made a few minor changes that didn’t affect the feeling and spirit of Psycho Donuts but at the same time dealt with their concerns. Ever since then it’s been much better; the controversy died down. Some of the people who used to protest us now come in and buy donuts from me and give me a hug, so there have been a lot of redeeming aspects of taking what was once an issue and turning it into a non-issue. It’s been quite a journey.
If you could change one thing about San Jose, what would it be?
Talking about downtown San Jose, I would make it a more compelling destination for people to come and hang out. I would start by having a lot of free parking for people so that you could encourage people to come downtown. I feel like a lot of decisions have been made in the city that negatively affect what they really want to happen. They’ve always wanted downtown to be a vibrant place for people to come and hang out, but I feel like sometimes the decisions made by the city don’t help to accomplish what they really want.
But I know sometimes it’s out of their control. The fact that they were forced to shut down the RDA was a huge shame and a real loss because the RDA was all about reinvigorating things downtown. Back before [Psycho Donuts] started, they were offering funding to small businesses to make downtown seem more inviting, but then all the funding for that evaporated and I think it’s left downtown in a worse off situation.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve met in San Jose?
Jimmy the monk. He wears this Tibetan robe, he’s got a long disheveled beard, and he used to come in almost every day. He’s a very gentle man and he’s unusual in the way Psycho Donuts is unusual. You see a lot of unusual people in this town and you don’t always know what to make of people, but he’s got a great heart and he’s become a regular fixture at Psycho Donuts. He writes poems for the nurses every time he comes around. He always makes the nurses smile. We all love having Jim the monk here at Psycho Donuts.