News & Politics

Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman On Why North Arlington Deserves Five Stars (But Don’t Get Him Started About Great Falls)

Stoppelman was a swim-team champ at Donaldson Run. Photograph by Peter Prato.

Long before he moved to Silicon Valley, asked his PayPal boss, Elon Musk, to help him get into Harvard Business School, dropped out, moved to San Francisco to found Yelp in 2004, and started showing up on various lists of tech gods with a net worth most recently estimated at $222 million, Jeremy Stoppelman was just a kid in North Arlington who liked video games.

He still comes to town a couple times a year—for instance, to lobby for legislation that affects his company—but the trips are also a chance to see his mom and check out his old turf. The 38-year-old attended Taylor Elementary and swam at the Donaldson Run pool. His family moved to Great Falls when he was a preteen and he graduated from Langley High in McLean, but he credits his years in Arlington with helping him build confidence and an interest in technology. On his Yelp profile, he lists the fajitas at Rio Grande Café (4301 Fairfax Dr.; 703-528-3131) as what he’d eat for his last meal. For a guy who lives in California, that’s serious hometown love. Here, more thoughts from Stoppelman.

What neighborhood did you grow up in?

Off Military Road in one of those post–World War II baby-boom houses.

What are your memories of Taylor Elementary?

Most are from Donaldson Run. We spent basically our whole summers at the pool doing swim-team stuff and hanging out with the kids there.

Do you still have friends from then?

Most of my friends are from Langley High School. One of them, Justin Stegall, runs Bakeshop (1025 N. Fillmore St.; 571-970-6460). I’ve never had anything at Bakeshop, but I’ve been meaning to drop in when I’m in town. He’s gotten really good reviews on Yelp.

You’ve said video games sparked your interest in technology.

Yes. That was our first freedom as kids, being able to bike to Ballston Common mall and buy video games. I think the store was called Babbage’s [now GameStop]. My favorite game was Prince of Persia.

What do you think of how Arlington has changed?

The increased density is exciting, and great for the local business ecosystem. Arlington has always been, and remains, a nice blend of urban and suburban. Everything is within striking distance.

What are West Coast misperceptions of Washington?

Most people think of DC as just a center of government. They don’t realize how varied and vibrant the area is.

If you were planning a weekend in Arlington based on Yelp reviews, where would you go?

I’m a runner, so Potomac River Running Store (4501 Fairfax Dr.; 703-243-2332) looks good—they have great reviews. I would probably want to get a cruiser to ride around on at the Old Bike Shop (2647 N. Pershing Dr.; 571-312-1730). One of my interests lately is guitar, and there’s a great shop, Metro Guitar Service (775 23rd St. S.; 703-371-7589), that will get you tuned up.

If you were to do a Yelp review of Arlington as a place, what would you write?

From a child’s perspective, I would give it five stars at least. Living in that little area of Arlington was cool because you’d have all these other children around and you could play back-yard football and ride your bike in the street. At Donaldson Run, I was a swim champ—that really built my confidence. We moved to Great Falls after sixth grade, and while there was more land, from a social perspective it was probably more of a three-star experience, because it was so spread out—it was a lot harder socially. Now that I’m all grown up, I’m more of an urban person. I like that Arlington has the best of both worlds—you can get into DC nice and easy.

This article appears in our January 2016 issue of Washingtonian.

Freelance writer Jennifer Sergent has lived in Arlington since 1997.