When PJ Walsh, ’21, walked into El Jefe’s Taqueria for the first time, he knew it would become a go-to destination for Lehigh students.
The new Mexican restaurant on East Third Street opened on Aug 31. Walsh said it is filled with students every day.
John Schall, the owner of El Jefe’s, opened the restaurant after deciding to expand beyond its first location in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near Harvard University.
Brendan Barnes, ’21, said he has been to El Jefe’s at least six times since being back on campus.
“Every time I go, there are definitely a lot of people there,” Barnes said. “It’s always packed with Lehigh students and also Bethlehem locals, no matter what time I go, and everyone is just talking about how much they love it.”
Before opening El Jefe’s, Schall analyzed existing taquerias and recognized three things he wanted to do differently.
First, he said he wanted to provide high-quality ingredients, all made from scratch. Second, he would not charge extra for extras, meaning customers would not be up-charged for ordering extra toppings, such as guacamole. Lastly, Schall said he wants to be open when other restaurants are not — which he believes is crucial for a restaurant’s success.
Schall estimated the first El Jefe’s in Harvard Square brings in about 800 people each day and 300 to 400 people each night.
“There are lots of people who take advantage of the late night,” Schall said. “We get a whole bunch of people from the casino that get done with shifts late and they have a place to go now.”
Schall said many orders are also placed through services such as Grubhub and Uber Eats.
“I believe in Bethlehem — we’re becoming a destination,” he said.
Schall is excited to get involved with the Lehigh community similarly to how he did at Harvard. He said he looks forward to sponsoring Lehigh events, athletic programs and publications to become an even bigger part of the community.
“We’ve just had a great experience with Lehigh students thus far, I think they’ve enjoyed it and we really enjoy having them here,” Schall said.
Walsh said Lehigh students have forged positive connections with the employees at El Jefe’s.
“It’s a great environment in there, everyone is nice and the food is amazing and most importantly, free guacamole,” Walsh said.