This article originally appeared in the winter 2018 issue of Harker Magazine.
By Vikki Bowes-Mok
The kitchen is bustling at Brown Chicken Brown Cow in Campbell, and at the heart is Chris Yamashita ’90. Yamashita is laughing with his employees as he patiently teaches a new cook how to put together a Psychedelic Goat Cheese Burger, complete with BCBC goat cheese mixed with truffles and mushrooms.
Yamashita opened the popular eatery in 2013 and his passion for people is what drives him every day. Whether it’s his employees, customers or former teachers who frequent the restaurant, Yamashita is always ready with a quick smile and genuine kindness. “If I didn’t like people, I wouldn’t be in the restaurant business,” Yamashita said. “I love good food and enjoy running a business, but my biggest passion is people.”
Yamashita grew up in Silicon Valley and attended Harker from grades 4-8 before heading to Bellarmine College Preparatory.
“Chris was the type of kid who got along with everybody. He was well liked and respected by all of his classmates, primarily because he went out of his way to treat everybody with genuine kindness,” said Pat Walsh, who was Yamashita’s math teacher in the lower school. “Chris really loved school, and his enthusiasm and positive energy were qualities that helped make my classroom a warm inviting place.”
Yamashita said he really did love school and appreciates many of the important life lessons he learned at Harker, including solid study skills, the drive to succeed and compassion for people as individuals.
His time at Harker wasn’t over after he graduated. He came back to work as a summer camp counselor during high school and while in college at Santa Clara University.
In fact, it was a warm summer afternoon near the flower beds at Harker when Yamashita realized his culinary dream. He and a friend, Mariam Morshedi ’90, were shooting the breeze and he said, “I want to open to my own restaurant.”
But then life happened and he got busy doing other things – until he saw her again. “It was years later and she asked me about opening a restaurant,” Yamashita remembered vividly. “She reminded me of my dream and it changed my course.”
Yamashita decided to see if he could transform his dream into a reality. So he started at the bottom of the food chain (literally!) and worked every possible position in local restaurants, including Kyoto Palace and Cin-Cin. While he was taking a crash course in Restaurant 101, he also launched his own catering business.
After a lot of planning and learning, Yamashita opened the bright orange doors to BCBC in 2013.
“When the space was being constructed, my then girlfriend, Jordan, and I were walking home from Campbell and she jested ‘Brown Chicken Brown Cow’ about something that had nothing to do with the restaurant,” remembered Yamashita, who has a 2-yearold son, Andy, and a baby on the way with his now wife Jordan. “We looked at each other and registered the name with the county the following Monday. I had the concept and the menu finalized, and the name was just perfect.”
Yamashita created a warm inviting place at BCBC with natural light pouring in, crayon-colored chicken and cow pictures lining the small hallway, and a bustling restaurant filled with smiling customers.
“I had a very clear idea what I wanted to serve — elevated burgers, high-quality chicken sandwiches and fresh salads — but I wanted to try new flavor combinations,” said Yamashita. “It turns out that people are more willing to try unusual combinations on a sandwich or a salad.”
As they say at BCBC, every menu item has been carefully crafted to satisfy even the toughest of food critics. “If it’s not good enough for Chris, then it’s not good enough to be served at Brown Chicken Brown Cow,” states the restaurant’s website.
Vikki Bowes-Mok is also the executive director of the community nonprofit Compass Collective.