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June 8, 2004 > Mission Jarrito

Mission Jarrito

Gazing out the window of Mission Jarrito Restaurant in the Ohlone Village Shopping Center on Washington Boulevard, Maria Madrigal remembers working summers as a young girl in the orchards that dominated the area. Never in her wildest dreams did she envision the path her life would take leading to a family enterprise that has become a landmark for many when searching for excellent Mexican food in a pleasant atmosphere.

From the beginning, the restaurant business was something new for the Coria and Madrigal families. Maria had worked for the New Haven Unified School District and her father, Jess Coria, at United States Steel. The steel factory closed and Maria was home with a new son. Both were restless and needed an outlet for their creativity and drive. "My father and I got together and thought of what we could do and did it!" says Maria. "We drew up the plans and did a lot of the work to create the Taqueria. My husband and my mother were both still working at other jobs so it was up to the two of us to make the furniture - booths and chairs - and open the business."

The unusual journey to the founding of the restaurant is exemplified by the name - Mission Jarrito. Maria says that "Jarrito" is the name given to a ceramic mug for coffee, tea or hot chocolate. When the business was about to start in its original location in Union City, a name was needed in a hurry. Maria wanted something "short and different" that would also be Mexican. Every home had Jarritos to hold warm and comforting drinks and she was reminded of a saying her father often heard from his father that "If everything is a good fit, it will even fit into a Jarrito!" All four founders (Maria, her husband David, Maria's father and mother, Jess and Emma Coria) agreed on the name and the enterprise was launched.

Initially, in 1980, the family opened the small Taqueria near the intersection of Dyer Street and Alvarado Boulevard. Maria and her father, Jess managed the store while their spouses still worked at other careers. For ten years, the small establishment thrived but there was no room in the shopping center to expand the business. When offered the opportunity to move to a new location in Fremont, Mission Jarrito was established at its present location where it has been successful for fourteen years.

The move in 1990 to the new location demanded another round of construction by Maria and Jess. From approximately 1300 square feet to over 3,000 square feet required a big adjustment. From an empty space, Maria and Jess worked on the interior design including chandeliers, floor tiles, arches and low separation walls.

Maria recalls that the move was daunting since not only were they changing locations, but also altering the style and size of the restaurant. No longer were they operating a small taqueria, this was to be a full-size restaurant with a larger menu, full bar and the introduction of employees into the mix. Throughout the changes, the family remembered the little Jarrito and tried to keep everything in order. In fact, looking closely at the logo for Mission Jarrito, you will find two Jarritos embedded in the name.

Everyone in the family has pitched in at one time or another. Maria says, "The entire family - children, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters - has helped. Glancing at her son, David, busy with customers, Maria adds, "This is a difficult business and family help has been essential." Her daughter, Veronica, worked for many years helping out and now has moved on since graduating from college. Eventually, both Maria's husband David and her mother retired from their "day" jobs and joined Maria and Jess at Mission Jarrito on a regular basis.

Everything at Mission Jarrito, including cooking, is a family affair. Maria shares duties with her husband, David who is a salsa whiz and her mother and father add their expertise as well including homemade tamales. When they aren't busy in the kitchen, David and Jess tend the bar. One note of caution, when visiting Mission Jarrito, even though there is a tendency to be tempted by the entire menu, make sure you leave room for Maria's flan dessert!

Many customers followed the family to the new location and enjoyed the expansion of the menu from primarily tacos, enchiladas and quesadillas to include more dishes such as Chile Relleno, Chile Verde, Chile Colorado and Machaca. Breakfast specialties such as Huevos Rancheros are available throughout the day and evening. The addition of a bar has allowed customers to order a Margarita or mixed drink with their dinner. Asked if the restaurant menu is influenced by a particular part of Mexico, Maria says that recipes used in the restaurant, come from a variety of sources including parents, grandparents, in-laws and others. She says, "We are all mixed here with a little bit here and little bit there." Preferences have changed over the years and Maria notes that while most dishes were relatively mild in the past, recently an increasing number of customers prefer "hot" dishes. A bowl of spicy salsa and chili is available to satisfy those who like it hot!

As we concluded our discussion of Mission Jarrito, Maria again thinks back to the early days of her life when she picked cherries, peaches and apricots in the same area where her family now owns a successful restaurant. It is with a bit of wonder that she thinks of the strong family bonds that are entrenched in the Tri-Cities and the growth of both the family business and the area. Her mother who grew up in Niles and her father who lived in Union City had no idea of where their life paths would lead them - and neither did the girl from Union City who worked in the orchards of Mission San Jose. Mission Jarrito is truly a story of getting everything right and fitting it into the little ceramic mug. Visit the Maria, Jess, David and Emma and the rest of the family that made it happen.

Mission Jarrito
1530 Washington Blvd., Fremont
(510) 770-9661

Sunday - Thursday
11:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Friday and Saturday
11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

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