Steve Borkenhagen has been part of the downtown scene in San Jose since before there was a scene to speak of. Borkenhagen, who ran the iconic restaurant Eulipia for 35 years, recently transferred ownership of the business to his three children, and helped them reopen the space as Café Stritch—a jazz club, casual bar and restaurant. recently had the chance to chat with Borkenhagen about what makes downtown San Jose great.

Stephen Borkenhagen

Occupation: Founder of Eulipia Restaurant; currently managing catering and events at Café Stritch, which he runs along with his three children.

How long have you lived/worked in San Jose?

I grew up in Santa Clara and I’ve lived in San Jose since 1975.

At what point did you decide to stay in San Jose and pursue your career?

I grew up near here, and I’m so connected to my friends and family in the area that I never really thought about leaving. My family has been part of building the new downtown. I was a part of a group at San Jose State that opened the Camera One Theater in 1975, and I opened Eulipia in 1977. We were really the first wave of interesting new businesses to come into downtown San Jose since the ’50s or ’60s, when the city went through a difficult time with few active businesses and a very limited dining scene. We were pioneers in building the new downtown.

What made you decide to open a movie theater?

We were a bunch of classics students and film students, and we used to go to Berkeley and San Francisco to see foreign films and art films. We thought that San Jose could support that sort of theater—which seemed like a ridiculous idea at the time—but we did it and we were very successful. Camera 1 went to Camera 3, and expanded from there.

What do you like most about San Jose?

For me, San Jose is all about downtown. I’m an urbanist, and I love the grit.

If you could change one thing about San Jose, what would it be?

I would add many thousands of housing units in the downtown core. I would make it easier for people to open businesses, especially off the wall business that don’t necessarily fit into the mold that planners like, and make it really easy for people to build alternative housing. Downtown has real potential as a place of artsy, bohemian culture, and if it were easy and cheap to live here and open businesses here, we’d have many more artsy and hipster types. We need to bolster the arts any way we can.

What San Jose event do you most look forward to every year?

The San Jose Sports Hall of Fame Induction Dinner is the best event in San Jose. Every year they honor a few world-class athletes with a San Jose connection. It’s a beautiful event where they also give an award to a Special Olympics kid—it’s very moving.

Who is the most interesting person you know in San Jose?

Dan Pulcrano (CEO of Metro Silicon Valley)—he’s such an iconoclast, and he’s so fearless about doing the things that he believes in.

What made you choose to switch from Eulipia, a long time established popular restaurant, to Cafe Stritch a jazz lounge with quick food?

I’ve always been involved in the arts scene, along with the dining scene. San Jose Rep’s first office was in the Eulipia building, San Jose Stage’s first plays were done in the building, and we produced some events in the building next door. We were actually a jazz club from 1977 until 1980, and then we became a fine dining restaurant. In 2013, we became a jazz club again, as Café Stritch. My son, Max, had a dream of opening a really hip jazz club and bar when he was in college. My other son, Mike, is the owner, Max runs all of the art and music, and I do mostly catering. My daughter, Melissa, also works here while she attends nursing school. We started fantasizing about it, and then we finally pulled the trigger. We spent a year working on the place, and opened as Café Stritch in 2013. We’ve had tremendous success on the Jazz scene.

What is it like working with your kids?

It’s fantastic. I love my kids. We disagree about things sometimes, but we’re a family and we love one another. I wouldn’t trade anything for it.

What has been you favorite performance so far at Cafe Stritch and why?

Rahsaanathon is our annual festival in August to honor the sax player Rahsaan Roland Kirk. He’s sort of our patron saint, and he features in the large murals in the club. Rahsaan inspired the name for Café Stritch—he played a horn he called a stritch, which is a straight alto saxophone. Every year we have trombonist Steve Turre headline a band that plays Rahsaan’s music, and Rassan’s widow comes out. It’s the jazz performance of the year in San Jose.

If you could bring anyone (alive or dead) in to perform, who would it be and why?

We talk a lot about this. There are a generation of players who are now in their 80s and 90s and some of these guys played here in the late ’70s, when they were younger. I’d love to have Sonny Rollins come do a gig—he’s about 90 and he isn’t playing much anymore.