Jay Hajj, professional chef, entrepreneur, cookbook author and owner of nationally acclaimed Mike’s City Diner in Boston, has been awarded the second annual 1851 YMCA of Greater Boston Civic Engagement Award for his outstanding support for community health and wellness initiatives. The Medfield resident accepted the award at the Y’s annual Spark Party on Wednesday, Oct. 17.
The YMCA of Greater Boston’s 1851 YMCA Legacy Award for Volunteer Leadership recognizes an individual in Greater Boston who exemplifies the YMCA’s mission and is a strong advocate for ensuring that everyone in our community has the opportunity to lead a healthy and productive life. The award honors those individuals who are having a meaningful and measurable impact on the Greater Boston community.
“I’m delighted to receive his honor from an organization that has had such a long, historic and positive impact on the City of Boston,” said Hajj. “Boston adopted me as one of its own when I was just a young boy and the city’s open arms have been so important to me and my family over the years. We love the city of Boston.”
Hajj knows first-hand how the Y changes people’s lives. Hajj immigrated to the United States from war-torn Beirut at the age of 8 with his father, mother and three siblings. His father Nicolas served in the Army during the Lebanese Civil War in the 1970s while his mother Samira struggled to feed four children amid the violence of war. They escaped the war and arrived in Boston’s Roslindale neighborhood I 1978 with little but the clothes on their backs.
Hajj credits the Y for providing him and his siblings with stability and a sense of home in a foreign land. The particular memory of swimming at the Y for free as a kid still lingers with him today.
“I can still remember the smell of the pool, the cool water on a hot summer day, and the feeling that at the Y we had a refuge in this strange and wonderful new land of America,” said Hajj.
Hajj soon made new friends on the streets of Boston from immigrant cultures from all over the world. He specifically learned to love the various flavors found in the welcoming communities of their restaurants. Food became essential to his success and he uses his love of food to give back to Boston.
Owning Mike’s City Diner, which offers his Famous Pilgrim Sandwich that is recognized by the Food Network as one of the Top 5 Thanksgiving Dishes in America, is an American dream come true. Mike’s City Diner even hosted breakfast for President Bill Clinton, who was brought to the South End diner in 2000 by late Senator Ted Kennedy and late Mayor Tom Menino. Hajj describes the presidential visit in his 2017 cookbook, “Beirut to Boston: Comfort Food Inspired by a Rags-to-Restaurants Story.”
Now, Hajj is able to provide comfort food to people of all means. He built his business to serve the average working family.
Hajj recently competed in a Food Network game show for professional chefs and won. He donated his winnings to the Huntington Avenue Y’s Annual Fund, to further support the Y’s programs and services for youth and families. Previously, he served on the Huntington Y’s Board of Advisors.
“Jay’s personal and business philosophy to build community by offering a sense of belonging that anchors community mirrors the Y’s core mission,” says James Morton, President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Boston. “He has helped to spark the good in all of us as and is an example of the success of our youth programs as a Y kid now giving back as an adult.”