Linda Griego is president and chief executive officer of business management company Griego Enterprises, Inc. Her newest venture is Etchea Cafe & Bakery, which recently opened at two Los Angeles locations. In 1993, after serving in a number of civic leadership positions in L.A., including deputy mayor, she became the first woman to run for mayor of the city. Before participating in a panel on the lack of women in L.A. politics, she talked in the Zócalo green room about her macaroon and chili addiction, the transformation of downtown Los Angeles, and why Christmas edges out Thanksgiving as her favorite holiday.
What is the last habit you tried to kick?
Eating French fries.
What do you eat for breakfast?
I eat walnuts, yogurt, and apples—combined. It’s like a little mix.
What about when you’re in the bakery?
I am addicted to two things: macaroons, and I’m totally addicted to the chili. We have great soups, and the chili is just to die for. It’s a Basque concept, and it’s just really terrific.
How would you describe yourself in five words or less?
Energetic, and I’m sort of a research geek. I really like to be challenged with new things, things I’ve never done before. I would say that that’s it. I’m inquisitive, and I’m energetic.
What was the last new thing you tried?
These bakeries. I’ve never built a bakery before, and just putting a new venture, a new concept in place.
What do you find most surprising about downtown Los Angeles today?
The vibrancy. I’ve been a downtowner probably since the early 1980s, when I founded Engine Co. No. 28, when downtown at 5:00 became a ghost town. People left their offices through their garages, and you never saw a soul walking down the street. Today it’s the opposite. While it’s not yet New York City, it has a very vibrant pedestrian traffic that it never had before. I believe the young people have made downtown happen.
What does it take to get you out on a dance floor?
Not very much. I love music, I love to dance. Just put some good music on, and I’m there.
What’s on your nightstand right now?
Books. I’m a big mystery reader, and I love to read mystery novels that are in places where I travel. We were recently in Scotland, so I picked up some Scottish writers. When I’ve been in India, I’ll pick up Indian writers. Because I learn a lot about the environment. I learn about street names, places they go eat—I’ll especially read mysteries that have to do with people who like food.
What is your fondest childhood memory?
Being with my grandmother. We had these big stoves, these wood stoves, and she would be telling us stories about her growing up, her ancestors, and we didn’t have television, so it was like watching TV to listen to her. When she gave sad stories you cried, when she did funny stories you were roaring with laughter on the ground. And my grandmother raised me, so I was very, very close to her.
What’s your favorite holiday?
I think Christmas. It’s close between Christmas and Thanksgiving, and that’s because I love sweet potatoes, and that’s the only time you really get them. But Christmas because it really brings families together—people plan for a long time to be together. The last several years I’ve spent it with my nieces and nephews and siblings, and it’s been terrific.