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One-on-one with the man behind Buck’s

May 31, 20043 mins
Venture CapitalWi-Fi

Buck’s honcho Jamis MacNiven on investing in tech, his role in the dot-com bust, Larry Ellison’s tipping habits and more

Jamis MacNiven, whose Buck’s restaurant is renowned as a hot spot for venture capital deal making in high tech, recently spoke with Network World Associate Online News Editor Linda Leung.

Are you going to buy Google shares?Everything I have bought went out of business, so no, I’m not going to buy Google. After 35 years of investing, I have zero dollars in investments now. I bought stock in Y2K fix-it companies.What’s the feeling like in Silicon Valley?

The feeling is that the bust is so over. But the surreal exuberance is coming back. It’s like childbirth – it was tough to go through, but you’d do it again. Google is part of the second coming but it’s not ‘the’ second coming. It’s a big deal, but it’s a tiny percentage of what needs to happen. There’s still a lot more to be done to fill the empty buildings.

Do you ask your customers for investment tips?

I’ve been offered insider stuff and some wacky stuff like [an investment opportunity in the development of] an armor-piercing shotgun shell. I’ve been invited on friends and family lists [for discounted stock prices] but I say, ‘Let’s be friends and don’t send me that list.’

You’re quoted as saying you’re personally responsible for the dot-com bust – explain?

I do take responsibility and so should the press. It was in bad taste that Yahoo invited me to give a speech at a Yahoo Summit, and within a week of that speech the stock started to slide. John Mumford [founding partner at VC Crosspoint] wrecked it all in ’99 when he gave $1 billion back to investors because he couldn’t find where to invest. John Doerr [of Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield and Byers] recently said Silicon Valley can’t absorb more than $700 million – there are no ideas to absorb that much money.

What’s your favorite display in Buck’s?

I’m something of an artist, and some of the stuff in the restaurant I built myself. My favorite is Woody the town mascot. It’s a 20-foot-long silver salmon carved out of Redwood 100 years ago in Washington State. It was in someone’s yard who didn’t want to lose it, but I managed to get it for free.

Who’s the biggest tipper?

Larry Ellison always tips 100%.

Any plans to offer low-carb options on the menu?

Laughs] Why would we do that? We make so much money on fatty, starchy food. It’s damned hard work to go healthy. We do mainstream American fare. We feed 20,000 people a month here. We’re a family restaurant – a people feeder.

So you wouldn’t turn Buck’s into an Alice Waters [mother of California-grown vegetable cuisine] or Roxanne [mother of California raw vegetables cuisine] – type restaurant?

I’d never be good at it. We don’t use local produce because there wouldn’t be enough. We go through so much iceberg lettuce – enough to cover, well, Iceland. I’ve eaten at Roxanne’s twice. The biscuit is made of dried flax – it gets very industrial on you the next day.

What’s your favorite restaurant? [crazy Caribbean/Latin American joint in San Francisco] because it’s wild and out there.

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