HomeTop StoriesThe SF family behind Original Joe's branch celebrates their Latin roots

The SF family behind Original Joe’s branch celebrates their Latin roots

A renowned family of San Francisco restauranteurs is branching out into a new kind of cuisine, but one that’s still close to home.

At Elena’s Mexican Restaurant, the flavor doesn’t fall far from the tree. Elena Duggan and her daughters teamed up to create the newest Latin American 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 adding new and vibrant culinary energy to the community.

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

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

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‘I received a letter from my mother-in-law and she asked if I could do one thing for her, and that was to give Catherine the opportunity to learn to speak Spanish so she could tell her how much she loved her. that’s something I was trying to do,” Duggan explained emotionally.

Duggan not only gave them the opportunity to learn Spanish, but she opened an entire restaurant dedicated to their heritage. Each of her daughters contributed to the process.

“I feel trusted because she believes in us, and it’s such a fun experience to help too,” noted her youngest, Grace Jackson.

Elena Duggan and her daughters travel to Mexico to research herbs from their hometown and have formed a special bond over what started as a passion project.

“Working with my mother is truly something special to me that I will be forever grateful for and will have memories of for a lifetime,” said Catherine Alcantara.

And the bustling new restaurant, with its long lines, is breathing new life into the pandemic-hit West Portal neighborhood and offering a positive outlook for the community, said Katy Tang, director of the San Francisco Office of Small Business. While hosting a small business pop-up, she believes the community’s economic growth is all connected.

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“You know, I think with Elena’s, not just for themselves, but really for the surrounding small business community in West Portal, if they can’t get to Elena’s, it spills over to the other businesses, and it just attracts people. So overall I think it’s been so great for the community, the neighborhood and all the other businesses in the area,” Tang explained.

Famous for its fresh coconut margaritas, the restaurant has quickly achieved success. But for Elena Duggan’s family, it’s the journey, not just the destination, that has touched their hearts.

“Being able to give my mother input on everything she puts out is a really great feeling. For example, one day she asks me what I think about a dish that’s going out, and the next day I go to Elena’s , and then boom This just gives me a feeling of empowerment and it makes me excited about what the future holds because who knows, maybe one day I’ll be running my own Elena’s with my cousin and sisters,” said Julia Alcantara.

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It is a fast-growing company, fueled by taste, passion and the pure love for family.

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