When Tracy Lee graduated from San Jose State University, her love for the city and atmosphere kept her rooted in downtown San Jose. Her passion for food and fun led her to create Dishcrawl, a dining concept that consists of “four restaurants, one night.” Nearly two years later, the concept has grown to more than 100 locations across the U.S. and Canada. We met with Lee to discuss the concept of Dishcrawl, her new project with nonprofits and her favorite San Jose restaurants.

Name: Tracy Lee
Occupation: Founder of Dishcrawl

How long have you lived and worked in San Jose?
Probably about seven years now. I moved to downtown San Jose to go to college—I went to San Jose State and majored in marketing. I’ve been working down here for the past two and a half to three years now.

At what point did you decide to stay in San Jose and pursue your career?
San Jose is interesting because of the people in downtown San Jose—the council members, the city, the businesses—everyone is receptive to new and exciting things. You’re starting to see this revitalization happening. Two years ago when I threw my first Dishcrawl in downtown San Jose, I was really surprised at the fact that there is a vibrant community down here.

How did you come up with the concept of Dishcrawl?
I was really passionate about food and I was working at a company called Brocade. Being young, you go into a company for the first time and you think you’re going to take over the world and make a difference, but you’re not. When I realized I wasn’t actually going to make a significant difference in that company, I decided to start my own. I put together my passion of wanting to eat and have fun and take my friends out. I decided to do a dish crawl one day, and the concept was four restaurants, one night. My first Dishcrawl was January 2011 and 90 people came out and it started growing from there. Then I realized this is something that can work as a business. Now we’ve grown to over 100 locations all across the U.S. and Canada, and we’re still growing.

Do you feel like that kind of dining element is lacking in Silicon Valley?
I think a lot of people forget that there are restaurants in downtown San Jose. With San Pedro Square Market, now you’re actually seeing people hang out. Before, that didn’t happen. When I first went into downtown San Jose, there were a lot of new restaurants opening up. I think there was a steady state, and just now, you’re really starting to see a lot of businesses strive and boom.

How do you pick which restaurants to go to?
It depends on the type of Dishcrawl. We will be doing a Taco Crawl soon in downtown. We usually pick neighborhoods, so we go to different restaurants every time. The restaurants are kept a secret. Lately, we feature new restaurants in downtown, like Original Gravity, La Lune Sucree and Grub Shack.

Can you tell me more about Dishcrawl for nonprofits?
The theme of Dishcrawl has sort of been all about helping and empowering people. We throw dish crawls because we like to help local businesses and help support the local community. We launched in different cities because we wanted to empower other entrepreneurs to be able to do this in their city. So, our next project is trying to figure out how we can use our larger events, like Brew Benefit and Neighborfood, as a fundraiser for nonprofits. Nonprofits already have enough of a hard time trying to fundraise. What we do is we say that any large event that a nonprofit wants to use to invite their demographic to, they can request to partner with us, and $10 goes back to the nonprofit for every ticket. My goal in 2013 is to try to raise $1 million.

What do you like most about San Jose?
I love that it’s a city but it’s not severely overpopulated and that it’s just so easy to bike and walk everywhere. There’s stuff happening. I love living in it. I can go to all the restaurants because they’re literally within walking distance to me and I can bike to work.

If you could change one thing about San Jose, what would it be?
Parking and more bike lanes. Make the city more accessible to people.

What San Jose event do you most look forward to every year?
I definitely look forward to Christmas in the Park because it reminds me of when I was going to college and I had my boyfriend. We’d walk through Christmas in the Park and get hot chocolate. It’s always nice to see memories come out like that. And I love that it’s right next to the Fairmont because I love the Fairmont.

Where do you like to hang out when you’re not working?
I love Mezcal for Happy Hour because I love their Oaxacan quesadillas. I love the Mezcalrita because there’s a chili rim. I love Fahrenheit for Happy Hour, as well. I love sitting outside San Pedro Square Market and I do a dish crawl of my own. I’ll order food at four different places and (my friends and I) will eat it all. We’ll order a taco per person, a banh mi at On A Roll; we’ll go to Little Chef Counter and get a fried chicken salad. Sama Zama is awesome. They have a root vegetable salad that is to die for. And I love getting pizza with prosciutto and a little Meyer lemon at Pizza Bocca Lupo.

Who is the most interesting person you know in San Jose?
Daniel Garcia from Content Magazine because he is so passionate about what he’s doing and he’s so hardcore about the community and just doing things out of pure love, and I love to see that.