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El Jefe’s Taqueria

Open Hours
Monday: 8:00 AM – 4:00 AM
Tuesday: 8:00 AM – 4:00 AM
Wednesday: 8:00 AM – 4:00 AM
Thursday: 8:00 AM – 4:00 AM
Friday: 8:00 AM – 4:00 AM
Saturday: 8:00 AM – 4:00 AM
Sunday: 8:00 AM – 4:00 AM

El Jefe’s Taqueria brings authentic Mexicano street food back to Harvard Square. Taking inspiration from his hometown street vendors, El Jefe transports his hungry customers south of the border with tacos and burritos assembled to the order on the open cook line.  Customers choose the heat at the Picante Station featuring hot sauce from across the country and around the globe. El Jefe offers you an invitation to forget what you know and come with him, to his home away from México, in Harvard Square.


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“Over” and “Next”

Norman Lear died today, at age 101.  For those of you that don’t know who he is, he was the creator of the sitcoms in the 70s like All In the Family, The Jefferson’s, Sanford and Son, Maude, One Day at a Time and many more that were the first to introduce social issues like sexism, racism, homophobia, divorce, single parenting etc into the world of sitcoms.  He was very progressive and did a ton of great things in his very long life helping untold numbers of people.  He also helped me start and then grow El Jefe’s!

In the summer of 2015 my landlord asked me if I wanted to open a Mexican fast casual restaurant at the site of the former Felipe’s Mexican restaurant in The Garage in Harvard Square.  I had never done Mexican food but I was concerned that Fire+Ice, after 18 years, was coming to its natural end.  But I wasn’t sure and since I had zero experience with Mexican food, just didn’t know if this was the right move for me.  One Sat morning in late June I was listening to my favorite radio program on NPR called Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.  They have a segment on this one hour humorous look at the week’s news called Not My Job, where they interview famous people and then ask them 3 funny questions about things having nothing to do with what made them famous.  On this day they were interviewing Norman Lear in this segment who at the time was 93 and still a major force in Hollywood.   And one of the questions they asked him was, “what is the secret to your very long and successful career in Hollywood?”  And his answer was, “You have to understand two things … “Over” and “Next”.  And I just said to myself that morning, yup, Norman is talking to me.  Fire+Ice is “over” and El Jefe’s (though I don’t think I had a name yet) is my “next”.  3 months later I opened the first El Jefe’s in The Garage in Harvard Square.

4 years later, I decided to take on an investor partner and to expand El Jefe’s from the Harvard Square and Bethlehem, PA locations that I had done by myself.  My broker brought a location to me that was at Emerson College, in an historic (1918) building called the Little Bldg that had just been completely renovated over a 2 yr period.  It was across the street from the Boston Common, next to a busy T-stop, and on a very active street corner.  But Emerson is a small 4,000 person arts college, not a big University that I was generally looking for to expand.  One early Sunday morning in the late fall of 2019 I’m walking around this area trying to understand if this is the right place to build the first El Jefe’s I’m going to use investor money for.  I can’t make a mistake on this first one.  I’m walking down a little walkway that takes you into a big government office building right behind Emerson College.  There are storefronts along this walkway and there’s a statue there, a statue I had walked by many times, but never paid attention to.  This morning I stopped and looked at the statue.  It was a statue of Norman Lear.  He went to Emerson College in the early 40s before he spent 3 yrs flying bombers over Europe in WWII.  And when he became a famous Hollywood producer, he used his position to help Emerson College graduates who were writers, directors, producers, actors, etc, get started in Hollywood. Thus, the statue they had made and placed in this walkway at Emerson College to honor him.  For the 2nd time it seemed Norman was speaking to me.  I signed the lease for this space two weeks later and it’s now a hugely successful store that has already become an institution in the Emerson community.

People I’ve told this story to have told me I should write and tell Norman this story.  I always said I should.  It’s now too late. And I’m sure there are so many, many people that he’s actually helped directly instead of through the cosmic forces of the universe that this story wouldn’t be meaningful to his family.  But nonetheless, today I’m thanking Norman for helping me, both with words of wisdom … over and next … and then with a cosmic sign, his statue.  Thanks, Norman.

Yours, John Schall