It’s all about the music and the food
Nestled between HP Pavilion [now SAP Center] and the Diridon Station is a little house of blues that goes by the name of Poor House Bistro. Seven nights a week, you can catch live music, sip a cold brew, and taste the delights of New Orleans cuisine without ever leaving San Jose city limits.
This is Jay Meduri’s house, a blues man himself. His love affair with music led him down a windy road that found him transitioning his family’s home into the restaurant patrons see today—complete with the musicians that grace its stage each night.
“This house was a sorority house off 11th Street that my grandfather bought it in the 40s,” Meduri says. “My grandparents and my parents lived here.” After renting the property out for years, his brother moved in and renovated much of the structure during the 1980s. Jay then took it over in the late 90s and began transforming the old Victorian into a viable business.
“I was very fortunate to have a family home that I was able to do a complete rezoning on,” Meduri says. “It took me five years to build this out. It was a long road and I didn’t really know what I was doing. You’re always throwing money at it. It was tough times. I leveraged everything I had: my house, credit cards, and loans.”
But despite the challenges, Meduri remained tied to his purpose of creating a space not yet seen in San Jose. The venue would be a real down to earth community music space where professionals and amateurs could share their common love of the blues. “For me, creating this place was about the tie with New Orleans. Being a musician and playing blues music inspired me.” Meduri worked for American Airlines for 18 years. “That was my ticket to get to New Orleans every year,” he says. “I was the ground crew…bringing in planes, a blue collar guy. I flew all over the place and traced the roots of the blues, down the Mississippi and through Memphis.”
Meduri remembers the first time he arrived in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. The live music and the atmosphere combined to give him a taste of something new.
Then, at San Jose Jazz Fest, he really fell in love. “It’s the vibe that got me,” he says. “They had a big food fest, cheese steaks, Togo’s, and Subway—but nothing beats a real Po’ Boy.” It was there he saw a market worth exploring. “I wasn’t trying to be fancy. I just thought of doing a simple Po’ Boy shop with the hits of New Orleans: your jambalaya, red beans and rice, and bread pudding,” he says.
Over time, the idea grew. Menu items were changed to suit the tastes of San Jose and the live music became an interwoven part of the restaurant’s mission. It eventually grew into the establishment it is today. There have certainly been a few setbacks on Poor House Bistro’s journey to success. The year they opened in 2004, San Jose suffered from a hockey lockout. The restaurant experienced a drastic drop in foot traffic without a hockey season. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, all but stopping Meduri’s supplies and rocking a community he loved.
Meduri remembers those times. “It hurt me to see all of my friends hurting. A lot of people had helped me with my recipes and taught me what I know about the cuisine and spirit. But then we regrouped and began fundraising. We were able to raise $11,000 for Habitat for Humanity’s “Musician’s Village.” Flying down to present the check gave him comfort, knowing he was providing funds to build homes for those displaced by the storm.
Comfort didn’t just go to New Orleans; much of New Orleans came to San Jose. Meduri remembers times when displaced natives would come in to order a piece of home on a plate. “People would come in and tell me how coming here would feel like being home.” he says.
With winter now fading and the Sharks back on the ice, Meduri and his team are looking forward to the busy time the summer months provide. With the warming lamps turned down, it will be the musicians who heat up the stage each night.
“It’s all about the music and the food.” Meduri says. “I like to look out and see a 90 year old grandmother listening to music next to a table with an infant. It’s a space where everyone of all ages can come and see great live music for free. That’s my goal. It makes me proud to have turned my family’s home into a public house.
Written by Kat Bell
Photography by Daniel Garcia
This article originally appeared in Issue 5.1 Sight and Sound.