I was born and raised in St. Louis and moved to the Twin Cities in the early 1980s. I went to the College of St. Thomas and graduated in 1985. I then went to medical school at the University of Minnesota from 1985 – 1989. After medical school I trained in General Surgery at the University of Minnesota. I took a year off to do a NIDRR (National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research) Fellowship at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, then returned to the Twin Cities to complete my surgical training. After residency, I did a fellowship for burn care at the Harborview Hospital/University of Washington in Seattle, then returned to the Twin Cities and worked as a General Surgeon for 18 years, first at Regions Hospital in St. Paul and then at the River Falls Area Hospital in River Falls, WI. 

In 2004 I was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor called an acoustic neuroma. I had surgery at Mayo Clinic to remove the tumor that was successful, but left me deaf in my left ear. Because the operation involves removing the middle and inner ear, I have balance problems that are much worse when I get sleep deprived.

 Because of this, being on call became increasingly difficult and, unfortunately, there are not many jobs in General Surgery that don’t involve taking call. For this reason, I went back to St. Thomas for a MBA degree with the intention of moving from clinical practice to administrative work. During this time, I served as the President of my medical group and learned a valuable lesson: I don’t like healthcare administrative work! Thus, when I decided to leave clinical practice at the end of 2015, I left without a job lined up and ready to look for “interesting opportunities”

At Veg Fest this year.

At Veg Fest this year.

I have not always been vegan. I was an omnivore until May of 2013. I am a distance runner, not that you could tell by looking, and I’ve completed 9 half marathons (13.1 miles for you non-runners). In 2013 I ran the Flying Pig Half-Marathon in Cincinnati. It was my worst race, by far. Around mile 11 of the Flying Pig, going up the last big hill, I got passed by someone wearing a “Powered By Plants” t-shirt. And when I say passed, I mean in the way that when someone passes you at mile 11 and they’re running like they just started. I was annoyed enough to remember the shirt! I finished, but felt miserable about my performance. Later that day, I settled in for some post-race R&R and watched “Forks Over Knives”. Perhaps it was the post-race euphoria or the trauma of being passed at mile 11, but I found that the movie really connected with me and I resolved to give plant based eating a try. To give it an honest effort, I decided that a 4-month trial would be good. I did some research and menu planning, bought the Forks Over Knives cookbook and Rip Esselstyn’s Engine 2 books and went to work. My friends and acquaintances gave me a week; but it’s almost 4 years now and they were completely wrong. 

Contrary to what I had been told my whole life (and taught in medical school) eating animals was not necessary to be healthy.

When I retired from clinical practice on January 1, 2016, I decided to maintain my Board Certification and I needed CME (Continuing Medical Education) credits. I decided to do T. Colin Campbell’s Plant Based Nutrition certificate from eCornell. As a result of that program, I came to fully understand several important things:

  1. Contrary to what I had been told my whole life (and taught in medical school) eating animals was not necessary to be healthy. 
  2. Consuming animal products was not only not necessary, but actually detrimental to human health. 
  3. Because of the previous two, there is no way to justify the wholesale slaughter of animals for consumption.
  4. We have developed a culture that makes killing some animals for consumption “normal” (cows, sheep, pigs, chickens), but excludes others (dogs & cats). This dichotomy is not healthy (thanks, Melanie Joy!).
  5. It is abundantly clear to me, and many others, that animal agriculture is not a sustainable practice. It is so damaging to our planet, contributing more greenhouse gasses to climate change than all of the transportation industry worldwide and causing intense damage to our coastal waters. And the payback for this non-sustainable production is a product that is actually harmful to human health and, through extension, to our national economy. 

I knew that I had to do something to get involved.

When I looked around, though, I saw plenty of people doing great work on education (that is almost completely ignored). The PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) and its efforts on the Dietary Guidelines & Mike Greger and his NutritionFacts are great excellent examples. Dean Ornish, John McDougall, and Caldwell Esselstyn have been doing great work, as has John Robbins, but had it not been for Forks Over Knives, I’m not sure I would have ever been aware of any of them. As a physician who had been working “on the front lines” of surgery for 20 years, it was a stunning revelation. So I tried to think of other ways I could have an impact. It occurred to me that a restaurant that only served plant-based food, but made it palatable to our carnist friends and neighbors, would be an excellent way to introduce a larger number of people to plant-based eating and would probably reach more people than I could as a physician. I had this thought rambling around in my head when I went to Phoenix in February for the half-marathon. While there, I ate at Green Vegetarian in Tempe and my immediate thought was that a place like this would be a great way to introduce plant-based eating. I contacted the chef/owner when I returned and asked him if he’d like to join me in a project in Minnesota. “Too cold” was his reply! Undaunted, I decided to make my own version. About a month late, Chloe and I were walking along Selby Avenue in Saint Paul (where we live) and I came across the abandoned first floor at Selby and Victoria. Like Brigham Young, I knew that “this is the place” and voila, here we are 9 months later and I have a restaurant under construction.

My goals for J. Selby’s are: 

  1. introduce the general population to great tasting, accessible plant-based foods
  2. provide a place where those of us practicing the plant-based lifestyle, whether for health, ecological, or moral reasons, can go out to eat and have a wide selection of great tasting foods that you don’t necessarily want to cook at home and 
  3. build a successful company that stresses social conscience over profit and adds value to the community.