The History Expert, John Lek, Gives Us an Inside Look Into the Historic Green Dragon Tavern & Museum in San Diego.
Title: History Buff
The Expert: John Lek
Credentials: Senior Vice President and General Manager at Green Dragon Tavern and Museum
Written By: Taylor Simmons Inside San Diego’s Green Dragon Tavern & Museum
Q: Can you explain a little about how you got to where you are today?
John Lek: Thomas Jefferson is quoted as having said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find that the harder I work, the more I have of it.” This has been my experience. Add a healthy dose of curiosity, a willingness to take on challenges and a genuine commitment to developing long-lasting relationships and you have the foundation my career has been built on. While attending UCSD, I worked as a public policy intern, a bouncer and a successful small business owner all at the same time. I learned much from each experience; however, the most valuable experience was learning to communicate with diverse audiences to drive desired results. Fast-forward to earning my MBA. Having worked in financial services for nearly five years at Charles Schwab, to back into entrepreneur mode and the quote by Jefferson still holds true.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Green Dragon Tavern?
JL: We were inspired by the original Green Dragon Tavern, also known as, “The Headquarters of the Revolution” according to Daniel Webster, that was demolished in 1854. Taverns were the epicenter of a community gathering. The idea is to create a unique venue for members of our community and visitors alike to gather and enjoy great food, libations and historic company–living and legendary. We have an amazing private collection of 17th- and 18th- century documents that were once directly held by many of our nation’s founders. Many were signed by the same hands that signed the Declaration of Independence and tell a story that reconnects our guests with our heritage as Americans. We are in the process of enhancing those stories with new antiquities coming soon!
Q: What is your favorite part of your life right now?
JL: All of it! I’m blessed to have an amazing family. With a 6-year-old, 3-year-old and a 5-week-old. I am dedicated to enjoying and being active in each stage of my children’s lives. Simultaneously, as a co-founder of Green Dragon Tavern & Museum since conception, I have an opportunity to run and develop an innovative business, a non-profit foundation and work closely with several of my dearest friends. Their hard work, philanthropic spirits and genuine love of our country made GDT&M a reality.
Q: What has been your greatest achievement thus far?
JL: I think my greatest professional achievement to date is having taken a leap of faith to embark on a journey of starting an innovative new venture for the greater San Diego community. While hard to leave behind a successful and established career, it has been thrilling to take a dream from concept to reality—one affirmed daily through interactions with our guests. We could not have asked for a more supportive community.
Q: What has been your greatest disappointment?
JL: Not having enough hours in the day to execute all of the exciting projects and additions on the horizon. It’s an exciting time at GDT&M, but as most running a privately owned small businesses would agree with, you can only do so much with the time and resources available.
Q: What or who has inspired you?
JL: I find inspiration can be found anywhere, at any time. My parents took a leap of faith to emigrate from Europe to the United States. My father is a caring, hard-working man of integrity and a Vietnam veteran who proudly served our country. He inspired me to take chances, be service-orientated, have pride in our country and think globally. Pre-retirement, he had a successful career in hospitality, an industry I never anticipated going into having seen the commitment to long hours. Now I seek advice from him hoping to learn from his experiences and chip away my long hours working in hospitality.
Q: What are three of your favorite restaurants/bars in San Diego?
JL: Cucina Enoteca Del Mar—Tracy Borkum and her team are leaders in San Diego’s culinary scene. For quality family quick service or take out, Urban Plates Del Mar is our go-to option. I came from the San Francisco culinary scene. I ate out for lunch daily. My wife and I enjoyed trying amazing new restaurants with international acclaim. After just over a year since our opening, I am still eating lunch at work every day. While self-serving, I must include GDT&M as my third choice. Our menu items are diverse and delicious enough to work through the menu, start over again and not get bored.
Q: What is one ingredient that every hospitality establishment needs?
JL: Proactivity. There are many moving parts in this industry. Building a team and a culture that can flawlessly execute providing goods and services at a high level simultaneously and consistently can be challenging. It takes team members who proactively look for opportunities and take action to create the best guest experience. GDT&M is fortunate to have a team that believes in being proactive.
Q: How do you maintain the dynamic atmosphere of the Green Dragon Tavern? How do you meet everybody’s needs?
JL: It is unachievable to meet everyone’s needs. However, dynamic is a great word for GDT&M’s atmosphere. There is a lot going on in our 22, 000-square-foot venue. While we add and alternate new menu, decor and museum exhibit items, keep our craft brew rotation fresh, I would state that our guests are what continue to create the atmosphere. We are a community-gathering location for dining and fun times with family and friends. Our demographics range from toddlers (with parental supervision of course), to baby boomers and everyone in between. It is fantastic to see generational gatherings at one table, hipsters at another and young professionals planning their revolution side by side.
Q: What would your advice be for those wanting to get involved in the hospitality industry?
JL: Be up for the challenge, prepare to work harder than you ever imagined you would and have a genuine love for people. I’ll quote Ben Franklin who said, “Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”
Green Dragon Tavern & Museum
6115 Paseo Del Norte
Carlsbad, CA 92011
760.918.2421 | www.greendragontavernca.com