Ketchum Mayor Nina Jonas takes a break from work at Rickshaw restaurant in Ketchum, which she and her husband operate together.
Express photo by Willy Cook
Ketchum Mayor Nina Jonas has been voted by readers of the Idaho Mountain Express as the Wood River Valley’s Woman of the Year.
The other two finalists were Willa McLaughlin, a service-unit director for the Girl Scouts, and Debra Hall, a real estate broker.
“It’s a surprise to win,” Jonas said. “I’m kind of shocked, but I’m humbled and it’s an honor.”
Jonas, 41, served one term on the Ketchum City Council before easily defeating incumbent Mayor Randy Hall by an 851-429 margin in city elections last November. Since her win, Jonas said she is happy with the job she’s done thus far, and is more conscious of her actions on a day-to-day basis.
“When it comes down to the fact that I’m the first female mayor of Ketchum, I consider myself somewhat of a role model,” Jonas said. “When people introduce me to their kids, then it strikes me as, ‘Oh yeah, I guess I’m the mayor.’ What I do speaks to the community, so I’m very conscious of my behavior and my actions.”
As the mayor, Jonas said she is trying to implement changes to better serve the local community.
“I want to change the culture in City Hall to create a more strategic-type of thinking,” Jonas said. “I want to see that projects and ideas that come to City Hall don’t just get acted on individually, but are acted on in [tandem] with what else we’re doing so it’s efficient and effective.”
Jonas said she appreciates that so many citizens want to help with the city’s issues, ranging from energy efficiency to creating a healthy year-round economy, and emphasized the importance of her interactions with other people.
“This is a people job,” Jonas said. “We do have city assets that we manage but it’s really about the interactions and serving the public. I want to create a very service-oriented City Hall. I feel we are headed in that direction, and I feel good about it.”
Jonas, who grew up in Ketchum, graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts with degrees in art history and economic development. She also spent a year at the London College of Economics.
Before pursuing her collegiate education, Jonas spent a year in various African countries including Kenya, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Tanzania, South Africa and Libya. Jonas called the experience “the most informative undertaking I’ve ever had.”
“I think I was young enough that the experience got to me,” Jonas said. “The experience wasn’t analytical so much as it was absorbed. I got to see how the rest of the world lives, how they are able to laugh and still have joy even though their days are centered on getting water.”
Jonas is co-owner of Rickshaw restaurant in Ketchum with her husband Andreas Heaphy. With her experience as a small-business owner, Jonas said her work at the Asian-cuisine establishment has done more to prepare her for a career in politics than her time in school.
“Rickshaw prepared me more for politics than my education because I’m dealing with people all the time, and it’s immediate problem-solving,” she said. “If you don’t solve a problem right away, then it explodes. It’s toughened me up, too, as I can’t take things personally and just try to solve the problem.”
She also said that her experiences as a small-business owner have figuratively made her develop skin as thick as a rhino’s—she doesn’t let issues bother her unless she feels like she could have done a better job.
With Jonas handling the business side of Rickshaw, her husband works as the head chef, with both bringing skills to the business that complement one-another. Heaphy graduated from the Portland Culinary Institute in Portland, Ore., and used to work as a chef at China Pepper restaurant for Hall, who was a restaurant owner before he became mayor.
Rickshaw has been in business since 2005, and Jonas plans on having a 10th anniversary celebration in 2015. When the restaurant was first opened, it was intended more to make experimental food for packaging before Jonas said it “blew up into a restaurant.”
“It’s worked out really well for us,” Jonas said. “He’s a food artist. He loves food, and he can’t get enough of it. Because we don’t do each other’s jobs, there’s not much nitpicking. It’s helpful to work together so I can see him.”
Jonas said the restaurant had a more successful month of January than anticipated, and is happy with the business.
“I think people really identify with Andreas’ passion for food,” she said. “He has always been attracted to Asian food, since there are a lot of bright flavors. There’s a lot of prep work in Asian food but when it comes to cooking it’s right down to the moment.”
Looking back, Jonas is amazed at how quickly the last decade has passed.
“These 10 years feel like they’ve flown by,” Jonas said. “One thing I worry about is being too busy having two jobs. Maximizing your day like that makes time fly by. I don’t want to look back 20 years from now and say, ‘What just happened?’ which is how I feel about the past five years.”
Jonas met Heaphy while they lived together as housemates in Ketchum, and later moved to San Diego together. The two have been married for six years after being in a relationship for six years before tying the knot.
Jonas said she and her husband do some activities on their own and some together. While Heaphy enjoys mountain biking and fishing largely on his own, Jonas enjoys hiking with her dog Arby, a red and white border collie. Ttogether, they enjoy skiing and scuba diving while on vacation.
With an extremely busy schedule, Jonas said there are a few things she wishes she could do if she had more free time.
“I would like to do more yoga and learn a language,” she said. “My mom is Danish, so I want to use my Rosetta Stone program to learn Danish. You have to do it every day though to reap the full benefits. I think it’s easier to make time for something big like a vacation than for something smaller much more continuously.”
As for her future political career, Jonas said she is unsure of how long she would like to serve as Ketchum’s mayor, but hopes to leave the city in great shape long after she’s finished serving.
“I would like to leave a really strong staff that has a strategy and a way to move efficiently and remains apolitical to work with a new elected body,” she said. “I’d like to get more economic initiatives in place like broadband Internet and a hotel. Also, I want us to do some sustainable initiatives in water and energy. We’re in position to be an example community for others because everyone wants to help.”