A Day with Jay McLaughlin

Spend a day with the co-founder of the eponymous J. McLaughlin brand, a man who also changed the footprint of Vero Beach retail by reimagining the Village Shops

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Cars are important to Jay McLaughlin. This 1980 Porsche 911 is one of several in his collection. Photo by Steven Martine
Cars are important to Jay McLaughlin. This 1980 Porsche 911 is one of several in his collection. Photography by Steven Martine

6:30 AM

I can’t sleep in. It’s not a matter of wanting to get up, but just another thing about getting older. It doesn’t bother me, though, as I find my thoughts come most clearly in the beginning of the day. 

7:00 AM

After a long, relaxing shower, I select a fashionably apropos combination of J. McLaughlin wares. Today’s white pants are paired with a purple-check button-down with an unexpected contrasting print inside the collar. That wow factor—putting something in there that was a little outlandish, but still ties in to the look—is one of my favorite hallmarks of J. McLaughlin. No one ever considered us a Talbots. 

I go off brand with my belt, but not outside the family. It’s from my son-in-law Trip’s needlepoint accessory company (Needle Golf) and customized with the name of the Carnegie Hill restaurant, Island, that my brother Kevin and I started. 

I also, reluctantly, put on the Whoop fitness tracker that was a gift from my son John. It is overly sophisticated for me, and I struggle with it. I try to golf at least three times a week and get to a creative fitness class at the club a couple of times. (When I do go, I’m usually the only man, with 30 women in the class.) Simple things are always better for me. I know good and well that if you do a little more exercise and drink a little less wine, you’ll sleep better. We all know what our problems are; it’s changing the behavior that’s the challenge.

Married in 1974, Joan and Jay McLaughlin couldn’t be happier with the home they remodeled together in John’s Island. Photo by Steven Martine
Married in 1974, Joan and Jay McLaughlin couldn’t be happier with the home they remodeled together in John’s Island.

7:30 AM

My wife, Joan, is the morning chef. Breakfast is often the only meal we eat at home. We’ve been living in John’s Island for about five years now. We purchased a home here and completely gutted and remodeled it. It was a huge project, and we couldn’t be happier with our home or this community. 

Our breakfast routine involves two eggs on an English muffin, occasionally adding in a slice of bacon when we are feeling adventurous. Over breakfast we discuss our calendars and what’s on the agenda. It can be anything from our upcoming trip to the Amalfi Coast (our first big post-pandemic sojourn), to updates on the construction of our new family compound in Long Island, to excursions to Palm Beach to walk Worth Avenue. 

My hobby is shopping—not for the traditional goal of purchasing, but rather to generate ideas for new business directions. I’m incentivized by odd things. The other day I drove by a little motel with 20 to 30 units, and I started thinking about how to turn it into a little place for tourists. My mind always goes toward the next project. 

McLaughlin describes his creative process as “old school”; he captures ideas with pen and paper in an office filled with family photos, art pieces, and bins and folders overflowing with plans for future projects. Photo by Steven Martine
McLaughlin describes his creative process as “old school”; he captures ideas with pen and paper in an office filled with family photos, art pieces, and bins and folders overflowing with plans for future projects.

8:00 AM

I have the three main New York newspapers in front of me—not the digital versions, but actual physical papers that I can hold on to—and scan them quickly for articles that I want to read. These usually pertain to restaurants or retail. I set aside those I don’t get to for later in the day, but often I may not readdress them until Sunday. I try to stay home on Sunday because I think it reorients your head as to what day of the week it is. If you are continually doing things that pertain to work, then every day gets muddled. It’s much better to meet Monday with a fresh attitude.

For 40 years, those Sundays would have included spending time with our dogs. We recently lost Max, who was very dear to us. We’re looking, but also resisting—we’re at a period in our lives where we want to be free to travel.

8:30 AM

I drive to the Village Shops, which Joan and I recreated eight years ago, listening to Van Morrison in my 1980 Porsche 911. It’s one of several quirky and unique (but not necessarily valuable) cars that I have collected. The others, like my favorite—a 1965 Morris Minor Woody that we restored in England—remain in our summer home in Bridgehampton. These cars are all parts of my personality. 

A paper planner keeps the day’s schedule organized and provides space to capture creative ideas as they arise. Photo by Steven Martine
A paper planner keeps the day’s schedule organized and provides space to capture creative ideas as they arise.

9:00 AM

I grab a consistently incredible coffee (made with Vero-based Rio Coco beans) from our restaurant, Citron Bistro, before heading up to my office on the second floor above Salon Del Mar to address business matters. There is an array of items that typically cover my desk, including the daily restaurant reports, a notebook filled with pages torn out of magazines, stream-of-consciousness jotted thoughts, and Post-its that chronicle my moments of inspiration and brainstorming process. For me, this old school method is far more effective than the internet for capturing and developing the new ideas that are always developing in my brain. I just have to use restraint to make sure that I finish the last project before I start a new one. 

I also have brag books of each of my five grandchildren (a Grandpa essential) on my desk. They are all under five and a half years old, and we rotate them in for visits. Joan sets up little vignettes for them to play in. They like Wiffle Ball, and we’ve got little plastic golf clubs they play with. The two boys live in the city, so we like to get them on bikes and outside. Joan and I met when we were both lifeguards, so we also like to take them swimming.

11:00 AM

I head over to Citron and talk to Chef Tibor before meeting up with Joan for lunch. This serves two purposes: I get to eat the food and I also see firsthand how the restaurant is performing. We try to take the least desirable table in the restaurant—which is the way it should be with owners. Joan loves the Open-faced Chicken Caprese, while I typically opt for either the BLT or Asian Tuna Salad.

12:30 PM

Before leaving, I stroll around the shops to see what catches my eye and chat with some of the retailers. If I need to pick up a gift for a dinner party, I might go to Coastal Comforts or stop in at Alimentari if I’m looking for food or a bottle of wine.

I want the Village Shops to be a destination experience for people, where they dine, explore, and linger, more than just a quick stop on a daily to-do list of errands. Achieving that goal means I couldn’t just set everything into motion and walk away. I am constantly looking for ways to improve the experience, so my team and I are working even harder now than we were in the beginning. 

People say, “Jay, you got involved in two of the most dangerous businesses there are—retail clothing and restaurants.” But I’m here every day because I like what I do. 

Philanthropy is important to McLaughlin, who is seen here with Jack Lynch, his vice president of retail marketing, at a 2022 Windsor Charity Polo Cup event. Photo by Deitch + Pham, Courtesy of Windsor
Philanthropy is important to McLaughlin, who is seen here with Jack Lynch, his vice president of retail marketing, at a 2022 Windsor Charity Polo Cup event. Photo by Deitch + Pham, Courtesy of Windsor

1:30 PM

When I’m lucky, I get in 18 holes with Joan and another couple at one of John’s Island’s championship courses. I also play with a group of 80 guys called “The Muchachos”—it’s a friendly game where you play with different foursomes all the time. One thing I like to say about my golf game, and I’ve been actively playing it for 15 years, is that it’s still improving. At my age, I think that’s a compliment, because most people are just trying to maintain.

5:00 PM

I stop by to check on the progress of our new Station 49 wood-fire pizza restaurant, located on U.S. 1 in Palm Bay overlooking the water. Putting this space together reminds me a lot of the creativity my brother and I applied in the clothing business for 40 years. We were both creative and entrepreneurial—and careful enough to be successful.

This will bring our restaurant count to four, far fewer than the 100 J. McLaughlin stores I developed before leaving the company, but still more than I ever anticipated having. Added to the management of the Village Shops, my plate is full, but not yet overflowing. To be honest, none of these were long-term goals I established. All these entities and accomplishments resulted from an evolution of creativity and the experience of traveling from place to place on a life path. It’s nice how that happens.

I also get involved in social activities at John’s Island at the end of the day. On Fridays, I like to go to pub night; it’s a low-key gathering of 50 to 60 people. I also enjoy the five o’clock hour speakers’ series, and, if we have family in town, we might go to trivia night.

6:00 PM

Our early evenings are often devoted to causes in the community. My wife, a former teacher, is very involved with Childcare Resources. She recently organized a successful golf outing, and we’re hosting a cocktail party in 10 days for The Everglades Foundation. We also support numerous other worthwhile charities. These local causes are important ways for us to be involved in this community that has become our second home.

The McLaughlins’ grandchildren (three of the five shown here) already display the family sense of style.
The McLaughlins’ grandchildren (three of the five shown here) already display the family sense of style.

7:30 PM

We pop by the restaurant for a nightcap before heading home. While I don’t have an extensive personal wine collection, Citron has an excellent selection of bottles to sample. I’ve been drinking more red these days (Pinot Noirs and Sancerres), but in the summer there will be plenty of rosé.

8:30 PM

I’ve started taking a second shower at the end of the day. It gives me that final burst of energy I need to stream an episode of the new Jack Reacher series or read a couple of chapters in my book.

10:00 PM

How do I end the day? Tired—but that’s the way I like it. People’s typical comment about me is that I’ll never retire. Every time they think I’m getting close, it becomes apparent that it’s not happening. What I’ve found is that when you’re moving forward, you will continually generate thoughts along the way. Why would I want to stop now? 

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