¡Atención! In our upcoming Nibble book, there’s an article on the square’s Latino restaurant owners, written by Rachel Strutt. Here are some “outtakes” from Rachel’s interviews with El Potro owner, Elias Interiano, and his son and restaurant manager, Jason. Photographs by Somerville Arts Council grant winner Caleb Cole.
Nibble: So, Jason, your parents are from El Salvador yet you serve mostly Mexican food at El Potro; is that right?
Jason Interiano: We serve a lot of Mexican food, but Salvadoran food, too. For example, we have Carne Asada, a dish you find in El Salvador. It is meat marinated in olive oil, garlic, achiote, adobo and dried chile arbol. We have papusas, too.
Nibble: What kind of ingredients do you use?
Jason: We use all fresh organic ingredients. Even our pork is organic. It’s more expensive, but if you want something good, sometimes you have to spend more money. In El Salvador, animals grow naturally. Here, chicken and cows have hormones injected in them to make them grow at a faster rate. If you taste chicken soup—sopa de gallina—in El Salvador, the taste is amazing. Here we try to do it as close as possible, but it’s hard with the meat you have here.
Nibble: How old are you?
Jason: I’m 17. I’ve been taught to work here since a young age. My dad has taught me to act around people in a professional manner. I’ve learned to follow in my dad’s footsteps. My dad entered this business because, well, he’s always liked to create something out of nothing. He likes to please people. Now I know this business like the back of my hand. If I go to college, maybe I’ll study electrical engineering, just to open my mind. But in 20 years, I see myself at El Potro.
Nibble: Elias, where are you from?
Nibble: Can you tell us about the name of your restaurant; what does El Potro mean?
Elias: El potro is a young horse. When I was young I loved horses. I rode them all the time. Once, a cow escaped, so I jumped on a horse without a saddle to chase the cow. The horse went off flying! He went through the woods and I had to grab a branch to pull myself off the horse. It was crazy. Here at the restaurant, they call me Potro.
Nibble: Latinos play an important role in the American restaurant industry—working in kitchens as dishwashers, prep cooks and line cooks. Yet of course they also own restaurants; in the case of Union Square, lots of them. Can you talk about this?
Elias: There are not a lot of Latinos who own restaurants and run them as well. Often, owners hire a staff, managers, chefs and then go off and do something else. Here in Union Square there are people like myself who own the restaurants and run them. There are few Latino-owned and run restaurants here and there, but Union Square is different because we have several of them.
Nibble: It sounds like you’re very hands-on as a restaurant owner.
Elias: I’m a big believer that if customers see the owner, it’s going to be a more successful restaurant. Union Square is different because of that and that’s a good thing. I don’t want to own 20 El Potros , I want people to come in and say hello to me.
Nibble: Can you tell us a little about your Mariachi Band that plays at the restaurant every Friday and Saturday night? Is it common to have Mariachi bands playing in restaurants in El Salvador?
Elias: Mariachi is from from Mexico. But in Mexico and all of central America, we listen to the same kind of music. You can find a mariachi band in any corner of El Salvador. Mariachi Estampa America is an authentic mariachi band but we also play Cumbia and Bolero.
Nibble: What instruments do you play and when did you start playing music?
Elias: I play guitar, accordion and vihuela, a five-string instrument. I started playing music in El Salvador when I was 9. I started playing guitar in the church with my father; it was a more religious style of music. Our band, Mariachi Estampa America started playing at the restaurant two years ago; that’s when we got an entertainment license.