JP is home to some of the best restaurants and bars in Boston but do you ever wonder if their staff can afford to live here? Today, we are chatting with Ruddy Rower-Camacho, a well-known JP bartender and service industry veteran, about how housing prices are affecting industry workers in JP, how to manage living off of tips, and his hope for keeping JP approachable.


K: Where are you from originally and when did you move to Jamaica Plain?

R: I was born and raised in Bolivia but I left when I was five. I’m Americanized. My mom had friends here and there was a close Bolivian community so it was easy for her to transition. My mom owns a house in Roslindale.

Ruddy and his mother.

I’ve lived in a variety of neighborhoods in Boston like Hyde Park, Roslindale, and West Roxbury. I moved to Norwood for middle school and then South America for high school. I went to college in Ohio and then I came back to Boston. I’ve been around a lot! I moved to Chicago for a year and I moved back to Jamaica Plain three years ago. My friend told me he knew I was moving back and he had a free couch. I had a very difficult transition in Chicago and so I came back after a year. I filled up two duffel bags and headed back to Boston. Within a day, I had a job at the Washington Square Tavern and Eddie from the Galway House offered me a night or two. I have stayed ever since. It worked out really well. I still live in the same apartment.

K: How long have you been working in the service industry? How many of those years have been in Jamaica Plain?

R: I’ve really only worked in the service industry in JP for about four years but I have three jobs at three different places in JP. I’ve been in the industry for about 12 years. I started out working in a dining hall when I was in college washing dishes. I worked at Bertucci’s for a couple of years. I worked at Aquitaine in Dedham for a while. If I did the work and traced back all the relationships I have and have maintained it all goes back to working at Aquitaine as a busser. Through the connections I made at Aquitaine, I got an apartment, made new friends, and got other job offers. These connections led me to have my favorite job I have ever had at Redd’s in Rozzie. I started there as a busser, then I was a server, and then a bartender. I worked my way up the old-fashioned way. Slow and steady.

K: What’s special about bartending in JP? Why is it different from working other places?

Ruddy working at The Galway House.

R: JP, especially at the Galway House, has a very interesting dynamic to the people who we serve depending on the time of the day. I’ve worked day shifts. I’ve worked night shifts. I’ve worked weekends. I’ve worked weekdays. Usually, we have the hardcore, born and raised people who are so familiar with what they know and they love it. They are our typical customers up until about 5pm. They are the old-school JP people. Then, in the late afternoon to early evening, our customers are typically newer JP people. These customers, like the bike messengers, might be living in a seven bedroom apartment paying four to five hundred dollars a month but then we also see a lot of young families and home owners. It’s a great way to see what kind of neighborhood it is. Then there is the late night crowd which is always a blast. We get such a range of customers during that time, everyone from people celebrating 21st birthdays to service industry workers who are getting out at 11 or 12. It’s a great place to go eat after work. The Galway House has been there forever and nothing in the neighborhood looks like it. The customers I bartended for in Roslindale and the customers I bartend for in JP are not similar at all. Roslindale was always young families and there is a unique neighborhood vibe there. Roslindale doesn’t really have a nightlife scene but it is up and coming.

K: Have you seen people in the industry being affected by the housing crisis in Boston?

R: Absolutely. People have had to move back home. People have had to move entirely. If this

[bartending] is your profession then you’ve learned how to live and save and look out for the future. But if you are going to college or grad school and this is just your side job and you lose it, you are almost forced to move out. Most people who are students in JP have to have like four or five roommates.

K: Do you think it’s possible to live in JP on bartender’s salary or do you have to finesse it?

R: You totally have to finesse it. In the end, I was lucky where I got in a situation where my roommate owns the condo I rent in. Some people aren’t that lucky. If you live somewhere and the owner decides to sell the building, even if they throw you a couple of grand for making you move, that’s not enough. You still need first, last, and a security deposit. That’s pretty hard when your salary is shift to shift. You’re lucky If you can find a place for $600 but typically it costs a couple grand just to room with somebody and you’re trying to make that happen on tips. The mentality used to be that ‘I should be able to pay for my rent and utilities from one week of work.’ One fourth of my monthly salary should be dedicated to that but it’s hard now to make that happen especially in JP. People won’t even get cars anymore and choose bikes or public transportation because it helps save money for the rent.

K: Do you mostly work with people who live in JP?

R: Yes. They mainly all live in JP or Roslindale but they finesse it.

Ruddy at the Jamaica Pond.

K: What’s your favorite thing about living in Jamaica Plain?

R: I like running around the pond. I like the cold so I like to run in the cold at the pond. I love the Egleston Farmers Market especially when they had Exodus Bagels there. We used to have a crew of five to fifteen people who would meet up and wait for bagels every Saturday. It was very special. I like that people are so nice and polite and they remember my face and say ‘Hi’ when I’m walking down the street.

K: Do you have a favorite JP memory?

R: I do! It’s a personal one. I was trying to date this girl. One of the things I knew about her was that she liked to run. She asked me if I was going to the Doyle’s Road Race and I was like ‘Yeah! Sure!’ I thought ‘I can totally do this and it’ll be fun.’ I knew I hadn’t run in two or three years but that’s okay. The night before the race I was at Boston Bowl and I was smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. I went to bed at like two in the morning.

I woke up and I was so glad I woke up. I got my stuff ready and I went to run the race. I knew a couple of people there so that was nice. The race starts and we take off and I am crushing it. I had my headphones in. I wore too much clothing so I took off my jacket and threw it to someone I knew on the sidelines. It was awesome. Half-way through the race we start going around a rotary and I roll my ankle. I roll my damn ankle. I screamed. I started cursing. I kept walking. I didn’t stop. I hobbled for ten minutes and then I started jogging and then I started running. There’s a little pug named Rocky. He’s well known in JP. He’s super well-trained. Well, I’m running along and I see Rocky and start waving hello. His owner, Billy, tells Rocky to give me a high-five and the dog literally gave me a high-five. That was awesome. Then I finished the race. I made horrible time and I was like ‘Whatever. I finished the race.’

Ruddy volunteering at The JP Music Festival.

I got a ride back to the Galway House to get some drinks and I look down and my ankle was blue. I went home, changed my socks, and walked to the Brendan Behan. Everyone who was at the Behan knew that I was running this race and trying to impress this girl and when I walked in they all started cheering. That was really nice. I had the worst time I had ever had running. I ran like an eleven minute mile but whatever. Everyone made me feel better. I got the date and we dated for a while and we ended up running together a lot. It was really nice.

K: What is your favorite event in JP?

R: That one is easy. My favorite event is the John Casey Bar Wars. It’s just so cool and it’s so nice to see everyone from all the local bars. Bar Wars is to raise funds for the JP Music Fest. The point of the event is for bars and restaurants in JP to put together a band with people who work there or are regulars there. They play three songs. It’s a one night band. It is so cool. Bella Luna wins a lot! They are so talented.

K: What would you like to see happen in JP in the future?

R: My mom moved us from Hyde Park to JP to Roslindale and then to Norwood and one of the main reasons was because she felt unsafe. She was a single mom with four kids and driving around early in the morning and coming home late at night. She used to clean houses so she was going all over the place. She would tell us there were places that we couldn’t go past and to always make sure I was with my brother and stuff like that. When I came back to this neighborhood, I started seeing all these kids from West Roxbury and Roslindale coming to JP for last call because JP has a lot of 2am liquor licenses. It’s what I always wanted. I always wanted to see this neighborhood I love become safer and more approachable. I never ever want JP to become unapproachable again. I want it to be approachable to people who work in the service industry and I want service industry people to be able to live in the neighborhood. It’s almost too unaffordable to live here and it’s becoming unapproachable again. It’s a beautiful community and I’m bummed out to see the down-swing of JP hitting its pinnacle. I don’t know what’s going to happen next and it’s a bummer.

What has JPNDC been doing to increase affordable housing? Find out here!