The $2 taco is finally coming to Broadway.
Yale University Properties announced Sunday evening that it had signed a deal to bring MexiCali Grille to 320 Elm St., filling the vacancy next to Ivy Noodle. University Properties has spent over two years searching for a burrito shop to add to its revitalized Broadway district.
The store will be run under a partnership between Charles Hague, who also runs the award-winning Aunt Chilada’s restaurant in Hamden, and former Yale football standouts Peter Mazza ’01 and Than Merrill ’01.
Mazza and Merrill said they hope to open the store by New Year’s Day, when they will begin rent payments. The two sides finalized the deal on Thursday.
“It’s a great meshing of a local restaurant guy with two former students,” Mazza said. “We’re very excited because we feel we know what students want.”
Merrill, who spent this past year with the National Football League’s Chicago Bears, said he modeled the store on the big burrito shops that have swept across California and the Southwest.
“It’s an alternative to grabbing a sub or grabbing some pizza,” Merrill said.
Hague did not return a telephone message left late Sunday.
MexiCali Grille will focus on takeout service but will also offer seating for about 35 people. The shop will stay open until 2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
In a written statement released Sunday, University Properties announced that tacos will start at $1.75, with most items priced between $3 and $4. Customers will be able to customize burritos and watch them cooked on an open grill.
The site was formerly occupied by Council Travel, which moved to 84 Wall St. in late 2000.
Mazza, who served as captain of Yale’s football team two years ago, is currently attending law school at the University of Michigan. He said Sunday night that he does not intend to take time off from school. Instead, Mazza will focus on the marketing aspect of the operation.
“I’m going to see where we can get involved in student organizations and possibly with catering,” Mazza said.
Hague brings a great deal of restaurant experience to the enterprise and will be the trio’s director of operations, Mazza said. Aunt Chilada’s was voted “Best of New Haven” in 2002 by the New Haven Advocate and is frequented by students at Quinnipiac University.
“Charlie runs an operation that is very popular on another college market,” said Andrea Pizziconi, a financial analyst with University Properties.
Hague and Mazza have known each other for many years. Mazza’s first job was working at Aunt Chilada’s as a dishwasher during his teenage years.
Mazza and Merrill first developed the idea for a burrito shop as Yale students living the Lynwood apartment building, just a block from MexiCali Grille’s future site.
“We just sat around and talked, and one thing that kept coming up was the lack of good, cheap, quick Mexican food,” Mazza said.
This past spring, Mazza approached his former boss, Hague, about partnering to open a Mexican store near campus.
MexiCali Grille will join several other Mexican establishments downtown, including Viva Zapata and El Amigo Felix. But Mazza said that MexiCali Grille will fill a unique niche, particularly in terms of service.
“We’re going to offer quickness that the other Mexican places will not be able to offer,” Mazza said.
MexiCali Grille brings the total number of merchants in storefronts managed by University Properties to 67. Only five stores are national chains, according to the department’s statement.
Bruce Alexander, Yale’s vice president for New Haven and state affairs, said last spring that he was looking for a low-cost Mexican store but that finding the right operator was an extensive process.
“We listened to the student focus groups that overwhelmingly asked for an inexpensive, late-night burrito restaurant on Broadway, and we searched carefully to find the right operator,” Alexander said in the written statement.
Mazza said that while the store will be geared toward students, its location on the edge of the Broadway district will also attract New Haven residents.
“It’s right on that border,” Mazza said. “It’s right on that edge where it’s realistic to expect some local people to stop by for a meal on their way home from work.”
MexiCali Grille is the 12th new merchant inserted into the region since Yale began a major overhaul in 1997. Earlier this month, University Properties announced the return of Ashley’s Ice Cream to the Broadway district at 280 York St.
Only two vacancies now remain in the Broadway district: the former Krauszer’s site and the space between J.Crew and Alexia Crawford.