Watch CBS News

S.F. family behind Original Joe's branch out to celebrate their Latin roots

S.F. restaurateur family opens Mexico-inspired eatery in West Portal
S.F. restaurateur family opens Mexico-inspired eatery in West Portal 04:22

A renowned family of San Francisco restauranteurs is branching out to a new type of cuisine - but one that's still close to home. 

At Elena's Mexican Restaurant, flavor doesn't fall far from the tree. Elena Duggan and her daughters worked together to create the newest Latin restaurant in San Francisco's West Portal neighborhood. As a mother of three daughters, she wanted the eatery to reflect her children's Mexican heritage while also adding new and vivacious culinary energy to the community.

"Well, I wanted to create a space where people could feel at home, like they were in my home. They could come in, relax, leave their worries at the door, and have a really nice time," Elena Duggan said.

Creating nice times is something Duggan and her family are quite good at. As the owner of the iconic Original Joe's, Duggan knows the Italian food business well. But it was an emotional note from her mother-in-law which first prompted her to further explore the Mexican heritage of her daughters.

"I received a letter from my mother-in-law, and she asked if I could do one thing for her, and that would be to allow Catherine to learn how to speak Spanish so she could tell her how much she loved her. So that's something I tried to do," Duggan emotionally explained.

Duggan not only empowered them to learn Spanish, but she opened a whole restaurant dedicated to their heritage. Each of her daughters have contributed to the process.

"I feel trusted that she believes in us, and also, it's such a fun experience to help," her youngest, Grace Jackson, noted.

Traveling to Mexico to research spices from their hometown, Elena Duggan and her daughters have built a special bond through what started as a passion project.

"Working with my mom has truly been something so special to me that I will forever be grateful for and have memories for a lifetime," Catherine Alcantara said.

And the bustling new restaurant, with its long lines, is revitalizing the pandemic-affected West Portal district, offering a positive outlook for the community, says Katy Tang, Director of the San Francisco Office of Small Business. As she hosts a small business pop-up, she believes the community's economic growth is all interconnected.

"You know, I think with Elena's, not just for themselves, but really for the surrounding small business community in West Portal, when they can't get into Elena's, you know, it spills over into the other businesses, and it just draws other people into the corridor. So overall, I think it's just been so great for the community, the neighborhood, and all the other businesses in the area," Tang explained.

The restaurant, famous for its fresh coconut margaritas, has already garnered rapid success. But for Elena Duggan's family, it is more of the journey, not just the destination, that has touched their hearts.

"Being able to give my mom input on everything that she's putting out is I think a really amazing feeling. Like one day she will ask me what I think of a dish that's going out, then the next day I go to Elena's, then boom, there it is. This just gives me a feeling of empowerment and it excites me for what the future holds because, who knows one day I could be running my own Elena's with my cousin and sisters," Julia Alcantara said.

It's a rapidly growing business fueled by flavor, passion, and the pure love of family.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.