Incoming businesses plan to compete for student customers

College+students+make+about+80+percent+of+Maria%27s+Taqueria%27s+customers+and+around+40+percent+of+The+Halal+Guy%27s+customers.+

Media: Cho Yin Rachel Lo

College students make about 80 percent of Maria’s Taqueria’s customers and around 40 percent of The Halal Guy’s customers.

By Karina Sanchez

The competition for college students’ taste buds is well on its way, as Garbanzo and El Jefe’s Taqueria are set to open this spring.

In response to the new businesses’ openings, current restaurants are concerned over the impact they will bring to the downtown area.

“This year, we thought we were going to have a good year, but now we have another competitor [El Jefe’s Taqueria] coming in,” Cristian Mancia, owner of Maria’s Taqueria, said in an interview. “Which is fine, we are way too small for [Emerson retails spaces], we would never be able to afford that kind of rent.”

El Jefe’s Taqueria Founder John Schall said they tend to open places near universities, making Emerson’s Little Building space an exciting offer. Shall said El Jefe’s signed a 10-year lease with 5-year renewal options.

“What makes [El Jefe’s] different than other independent taquerias is that we are authentic Mexican food from scratch,” Schall said in an phone interview. “We have family recipes passed down from our Mexican-American chefs that have been in their families for generations, and we use high quality New England produce that we pick up a few times a week for freshness.”

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Like Schall, Derek St. George, Garbanzo’s director of operations and one of Emerson’s newest renters, said Garbanzo is also looking to cater to college students.

“We want a partnership with Emerson students and are always looking for ways to accommodate, so we are [taking] EC Cash,” St. George told The Beacon. “We are hoping to do meal deals between certain hours where students can get a combo meal that will include a base protein, a drink, and a side for a flat price, and that will be cheaper than the competition.”

The Halal Guys, located on 137 Stuart Street, is one of Garbanzo’s main competitors. Hiring Manager Rizwan Ali said he had never heard about Garbanzo, nor did he know about their spring opening.

“Maybe in the future we will look to do more promotions,” Ali said. “But right now, we aren’t.”

Both The Halal Guys and Maria’s Taqueria currently rely on the college student markets. Mancia said up to 80 percent of his customers are students, and Ali estimates that about 40 percent of their regulars are also students.

Senior Grayson Pitt said he noticed that Maria’s Taqueria recently increased their prices, which might be to combat financial struggles.

“You don’t think that a small place like Maria’s is going to impact a whole college, and in the whole scheme of things, maybe it doesn’t,” Pitt said. “But, there are a lot of people like me who have had a lot of good nights at Maria’s, and to think that they could struggle because of new places sucks.”

With local businesses relying on students to make a profit, summer vacation becomes a difficult time for vendors around the Emerson campus. Mancia warned this may prove to be an early complication for the new restaurants.

“The summer is very slow here, and that is when the reality is going to hit for everyone new in the neighborhood,” Mancia said. “They’ll see all this money coming in during the school year, and then see their business going from 300 customers to 70 in the summer.”

Construction and slow summers are a weak point in business, Mancia said, but Schall has a different take.

“We see the construction as a really strong positive thing, and there is tons of construction everywhere,” Schall said. “It doesn’t hurt us—construction workers love our place—so we aren’t worried about that.”

Mancia said although Maria’s Taqueria is not located in an Emerson-owned building, and the college never asked them to move into a retail space, they are still involved in the community.

“I’m not sure if it was last year, or the year before, but we donated $3,800 [in food] towards the EVVY’s,” Mancia said. “We tell the students to go get what they can from other people and whatever they don’t get we can help.”

Because El Jefe’s already has a location in Harvard Square and close ties with Harvard University, Schall said he looks forward to being a part of and contributing to the Emerson community when he can.

“I’m not sure about all that goes into the business side of picking the places that are going in LB, but those places are going to be in the heart of campus,” Pitt said. “I think that listening to student voices and considering places that students have been more receptive towards, like Maria’s, would be nice.”

St. George said they have hope for the future of Garbanzo. He and business partner Kevin Brown are striving to make Garbanzo stand out from the other local eateries with their good service and food that caters to all.

“Competition is healthy; you don’t want to be the only food in the shopping center,” St. George said. “Competition brings more people to the area and gives people the chance to see if they like us better than those around.”

Editor-in-Chief Chris Van Buskirk did not edit this article due to a conflict of interest.