A breakfast sandwich with ham and cheddar on a ciabatta roll.
That’s what seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky ordered at Jimmy V’s Sports Cafe every day when she trained for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The cafe, affectionately known as Jimmy V’s, is Stanford’s sports-themed campus eatery and a linchpin of Stanford athletics. Located on Campus Drive in the Arrillaga Family Sports Center, it has served as a gathering spot for the athletics community since 1999.
Jimmy V’s is involved in every stage of the student-athlete lifecycle, from an athlete’s recruiting visit to their graduation. Natalie Bond, a senior on the women’s lacrosse team, recalls her first memory of Jimmy V’s during her official visit as a high school senior.
“I remember feeling like I was in my little diner back home,” said Bond, who is from Westfield, N.J. “From the instant I walked in, Jimmy V’s felt familiar and comfortable.”
Athletic memorabilia adorn Jimmy V’s walls, which are painted gray with cardinal accents that match the red pleather upholstery on its dining chairs. Football helmets from each school in the PAC-12 conference rest on floating shelves above the soda fountain. Two neon signs give the cafe a retro feel — one says “Stanford Athletics, Home of Champions,” the other says “Taqueria” with a baseball player mid-swing. Eighteen framed and autographed jerseys of former Stanford athletes decorate the back hallway. Candice Wiggins inscribed on her jersey in Sharpie: “To Jimmy — epic food, epic smoothies, epic times. You rock!”
“Jimmy V’s is a place of stability,” said Louis Stenmark, a former member of the men’s track and field team who frequented the cafe every day as a sophomore. “I’ve eaten so many meals there to fuel up before or after practice.”
As a dependable spot for a hearty meal, Jimmy V’s has a star-studded clientele, including Ledecky and other notable current and former members of Stanford Athletics.
Kevin Santia, managing partner of Jimmy V’s, knows each of their orders by heart.
“I have a weird thing for remembering people’s orders,” Santia says. Santia, 55, is recognizable by his soul patch and the rectangular glasses he wears when preparing orders or working on his computer. When he’s talking to customers, his glasses rest atop his buzzed hairline.
Santia can rattle off his customers’ usuals like a second grader recites times tables. The NBA’s Lopez twins always got double cheeseburgers. Head football coach David Shaw loves his bacon cooked soft and chewy (“bendy, he calls it.”) Athletic director Bernard Muir’s order is a Hawaiian roll breakfast sandwich with just chicken and cheese, because he doesn’t eat eggs. The men’s soccer team “goes crazy for chicken parmesan.”
Santia honors some of his most loyal customers by adding their usual order to the menu. Nneka Ogwumike’s eponymous sandwich, for example, is the Nneka-Nator: chicken breast, Swiss cheese, bacon and buffalo sauce on a ciabatta roll with a side of ranch.
Student-athletes don’t just dine at Jimmy V’s; they work there. When they were in school, World Cup champion soccer player Kelley O’Hara and Olympic diver Cassidy Krug worked the counter and took orders during the lunch rush.
Typically, though, Santia is behind the counter. At any given time, he can be found ringing up customers, bussing tables or working from his office: a table in the cafe that he has co-opted as his desk. Santia arrives at work at 5:30 a.m. every day, often running into the soccer team heading to morning practice — they exchange sleepy “hellos” when they cross paths.
Santia virtually lives at Jimmy V’s, which is unsurprising, because Santia grew up at Jimmy V’s. Jimmy V’s is Santia’s home. And Jimmy Viglizzo, the cafe’s founder and namesake, is Santia’s second father.
Santia first met Viglizzo, 70, in 1982, when Viglizzo owned the deli and meat department at John’s Market in Palo Alto’s Town and Country Village. Viglizzo hired 16-year-old Santia as a dishwasher. Quickly, Viglizzo became a father figure to Santia.
“I love Kevin. I don’t look at him as anything but my oldest son,” Viglizzo says. Ten years after Viglizzo hired Santia, he promoted Santia to head chef.
Located just across the street from Stanford’s campus, John’s Market had always been associated with, and promoted, Stanford athletics. Its grocery aisles were named after each of the PAC-10 conference schools. Stanford affiliates — including one of the university’s top donors John Arrillaga — frequently shopped at the market and grabbed meals at the deli. So, when Arrillaga invited Viglizzo to take over the vacant restaurant spot where Jimmy V’s stands now, Viglizzo said it felt right given his existing relationship with Stanford.
“It felt like, ‘oh, I landed,’” Viglizzo said. “It felt like I had come home.”
Jimmy V’s isn’t home for just Viglizzo and Santia, but also for the greater Stanford community.
“It’s like my home base,” Bond says. “The people that work at Jimmy V’s all know my name. I feel a sense of comfort and welcome. I’m gravitated to it, and I go there every chance I get.”
Jimmy V’s is where Arrillaga performed card tricks. It’s where student-athletes go to watch the presidential election results. It’s where students from the business school across the street go to grab a cheap meal (nothing on the menu costs more than 10 bucks.)
“We want to have relationships, and not just with athletics,” Viglizzo says. “I think that a lot of people think that Jimmy V’s only takes care of athletes — no. It’s everybody here.”
In addition to serving Stanford, Viglizzo has dedicated himself to helping a larger community.
“There’s nothing better in life than giving back to others,” Viglizzo said. His favorite event the cafe caters is a charity football clinic for children of incarcerated parents organized by the NFL Alumni Association of Northern California and the Prison Fellowship, a nonprofit organization supporting incarcerated people and their families.
Viglizzo says it’s the only event he caters where there’s never a piece of food left.
“The kids take the leftovers and put it in their pockets,” Viglizzo said. “Because they’re going to go home and there’s no food in their house. So I say let everything go.”
Viglizzo’s philosophy is encapsulated in a quote written on one of the cafe walls: “You’re never wrong to do the right thing — Mark Twain.”
“It’s the best event I do of the year because I’m helping others,” Viglizzo said.
What keeps people coming back to Jimmy V’s isn’t the food; it’s the feeling of being cared for. When you place an order at Jimmy V’s, you don’t get an order number.
“Instead, we ask your name. We write it down. We call you by name,” Viglizzo said. “I want Jimmy V’s to be a place where everybody knows your name. You’re not a number, you’re a special person.”