Introducing Dr. Jay Guben

Mar 15, 2017Student Leadership Development Institute

By Kenan Rabah and Cecelia Johnson-Chavis

In an effort to learn more about the history of our College, we reached out to President Liberatoscioli. He shared with us some of the College’s many milestones, but what really stood out was the story of Dr. Jay Guben. It is a name that not many of us know well, but after some research, it became clear that this is a man who has had a tremendous impact on each of us as members of the Walnut Hill College community and as Philadelphians as well.

Jay Guben came to Philadelphia in the 1960’s with a background in urban renewal. He was a gastronome, unsatisfied with the city’s culinary offerings determined to change the scene. In 1971, Guben opened his first restaurant, Les Amis, with partner Vicki Rensen, and very soon afterward opened Friday Saturday Sunday with a small team of restaurateurs. Both restaurants were said to have a “California flowerpot style,” featuring rotating, seasonal menus and fresh, local ingredients. Within the next five years, Guben opened nearly a dozen restaurants, including Morgan’s, Maxwell’s Prime, Bogarts, and Upstairs, Downstairs. Guben is credited with creating variety in Philadelphia’s restaurant scene and showing city dwellers that dining out could be fun and interesting.

In 1974, Jay Guben assembled a team comprised of Chef Thomas Hunter, Maître D’ Hans Bachler, and Anita Simon. Together, they opened The Restaurant School. The school operated out of a four-story brownstone at 2129 Walnut Street with only one kitchen, one classroom, one office, and a 40-seat restaurant. The program lasted only 10 months, and they began with only nine students. In the second year, our very own president, Mr. Liberatoscioli, completed the program. Over the next few years, the enrollment and presence of The Restaurant School continued to multiply, and by 1978, nearly a quarter of the school’s graduates owned and operated restaurants in the city. Dr. Guben’s commitment to education did not end with The Restaurant School. He has since founded Freire Charter School, Praxis Learning Institutes, and I-LEAD Charter School, each of which aims to meet an underserved need in traditional education systems. He has also spent much of his career consulting and fostering local entrepreneurship and worker-owned businesses through his organization, The O&O Investments Fund. In 2015, Dr. Guben worked with Drexel University and the People’s Emergency Center to create Fresh Start Foods, a program that provides fresh and healthful meals to West Philadelphia schools at a low cost. The program also offers a culinary apprenticeship program to local residents with little secondary education or work experience.

The impression that Dr. Jay Guben has had on our College and our city is nearly immeasurable. Not only did he pioneer Philadelphia’s restaurant revolution, but he used his position and influence within the city to advance the state of business and education as well.

-Kenan Rabah, Student Leader
Culinary Arts, Class of March 2018

-Cecelia Johnson-Chavis, Student Leader
Culinary Arts, Class of March 2018