We’re just getting back to the office in Kendall Square after a nice walk across the river to Boston. (When we’ve been working past midnight the last few nights, grabbing a six-pack to accompany us for the rest of the evening seemed appropriate, and believe it or not, that’s pretty much the closest place to buy one.) Along the way, we had a fantastic dinner that’s been making me think about the way we hope to do our work.
Villa Mexico is a small, unassuming place tucked in a gas station on Beacon Hill, right across from Mass General. Yes. It’s a restaurant in a gas station; you have to compete with lotto-card-scratchers for one of the four seats. It’s a Mexican restaurant in a town that, if you’ll forgive us - we’re from Chicago and California, we know what we’re talking about – has simply atrocious Mexican food.
But then my college friend Alex, a Cupertino native who has a sixth sense for ethnic food like that town’s most famous resident had for design, took me to this gas station. It is, like most gas stations, full of crabby people telling you “no.” No credit cards under $5; no scratching your lotto ticket on the counter; no thumbing through the newspapers on the rack.
Then you see Julie’s taco stand in the back. You walk up and order your tamales from a counter and kitchen probably no larger than 5′x12′. You brace yourself for “cash only,” “no substitutions.” And you get none of that, but something entirely different.
Julie understands quality.
One of my chief knocks against most Mexican food in Boston is that Mexican food is largely based on the ingredients that make up a dish – for example it’s tough to make cruddy avocados shipped across the country into a great guacamole. Julie seems to understand the difference and not only gets good produce, but doesn’t skimp in other areas, either. You’re getting sharp, fresh Mexican cheese on your beans, and those tamales were made in-house in a process that takes hours of steaming and rolling.
Julie takes care of your experience.
Have you ever eaten a meal in a gas station where your meal took 15 minutes to prepare from scratch, was served to your “table” while you waited, and was punctuated by visits from the owner to ask how you were liking it? I hadn’t until I went to Villa Mexico. Julie has a sense of how to remove friction while she works, and removes barriers to a good experience – heck, she even took Evan’s credit card with Square. [Startup bonus points!]
Julie understands the power of small touches.
Perhaps the thing that most delighted me about dinner tonight was that it included things that I wouldn’t have missed had Julie not thought to add them, like mole negro – a condiment often made up of more than 20 different ingredients – in a little plastic cup. Or a distinctly Mexican-style dinner roll. Even a Starlite after-dinner mint placed on top of our tortillas to finish off the meal. An after-dinner mint for gas-station tamales.
A fascination with our craft and components, a skill in looking after our customer’s experience, and attention for the details that bring it all together. Whether it’s tamales or the products each of us make, let’s have Boston be known for good work like we’ll find in a Beacon Hill gas-station taco stand.