MexiCali Grille makes timely debut



With Yale Precision Marching Band members donning novelty oversized sombreros and playing peppy Mexican music, the MexiCali Grille — which started serving south-of-the-border fare last Wednesday — welcomed the public with open arms and $2 burritos at its grand opening Friday.

Nearby shoe store Thom Brown, which had been open for two months, also joined in the festivities.

Both stores are part of phase two of the Broadway revitalization project. This phase focuses on drawing more small businesses to the Broadway retail district to join the already-existing larger anchor stores such as J.Crew and Urban Outfitters, said Andrea Pizziconi ’01, an analyst for University Properties.

“Phase two of the Broadway revitalization is to focus on local merchants. They create the character of Broadway,” Pizziconi said. “It’s important to have key anchors like J.Crew, but local merchants keep people coming back again and again.”

Thom Brown, a small, independently-owned shoe store, has sister stores in the Boston and Cambridge, Mass., areas. MexiCali Grille, located next to Ivy Noodle, is the product of the combined efforts of Charles Hague, owner of Aunt Chilada’s Mexican restaurant in Hamden, and Yale graduates Than Merrill ’01 and Peter Mazza ’01. The grand opening also included promotions from nearby retailers.

Yale President Richard Levin spoke at the ribbon cutting about his enthusiasm for the revitalization movement. Levin said he is pleased with the recent opening of local independent stores such as Alexia Crawford and Ashley’s Ice Cream and has high hopes for the anticipated spring arrival of an Italian restaurant, Bistro LaMensa, in the space next to the Yale Bookstore.

“We are glad to be able to contribute to the development of the city,” he said.

Levin said the opening of MexiCali Grille was a testament to the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of Yale graduates. Owners Merrill and Mazza played football for the Bulldogs while at Yale. Merrill, a California native, and Mazza, who worked at Aunt Chilada’s as a teenager, spoke during their college years about starting an inexpensive late-night burrito restaurant but never could have imagined that their idea would actually come to fruition, Merrill said. But when they teamed up with Hague, owner of the award-winning restaurant where Mazza once worked, the restaurant became a reality.

“So many great ideas come out of Yale, but how many people follow through on them?” Merrill said.

Recently signed as a safety for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Merrill said his first venture into the restaurant world has been a learning process and has provided him with a creative outlet. He said he especially enjoyed being able to give back to the Yale community.

Merrill and Hague said MexiCali Grille fills a void in the New Haven restaurant community and that they hope to expand to other campuses.

“You just need this on a college campus — something the students can afford, something that’s quick, something that’s fresh and good for you,” Merrill said.

Students said such a restaurant would satisfy a great need. Mark Lee ’04, drum major for the YPMB, said there could not be a better time for the MexiCali Grille opening.

“I’m really psyched for the burrito joint,” Lee said. “It’s great that it’s opening right in time for the strike.”

Owner and namesake Thom Brown said that, judging from current sales, students and New Haven residents are similarly excited about the addition of his new high-end shoe store. With a store located in Cambridge, Brown said he was familiar with catering to the student customer. His sentiment on his store’s involvement in the revitalization of Broadway echoed the sentiment of others.

“We’re very happy to be part of this whole community,” Brown said.

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