An upbeat website for a downtown school

the Southerner Online

An upbeat website for a downtown school

the Southerner Online

An upbeat website for a downtown school

the Southerner Online

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Fifth Group replaces El Taco with Ela, their first new restaurant in 10 years

Penelope Keenan
Ela kept some the main features of El Taco, such as their spacious patio, but gave the space a sophisticated makeover, incorporating greenery as a focal point their new design.

In Virginia-Highland, where local favorite restaurant El Taco stood for 15 years, now stands Ela, which opened Feb. 20 and embraces Pan-Mediterannian flavors and the shareable, inviting nature of Mediterranean cuisine.

After over 30 years of owning restaurants in Atlanta and 10 years without opening any new restaurants, Fifth Group Restaurants decided it was time for a change. Steve Simon, partner & co-founder of Fifth Group, said he is proud of El Taco’s effect on the community but is excited about this new venture.

“The impact that El Taco had on so many families and individuals in this space is not lost on us,” Simon said. “We’re so proud and honored to have played such a pivotal role in so many lives, but we felt it was time for something exciting and fresh. With Ela, our hope has been to provide that — a new version of the neighborhood’s most beloved spot, something that fits in and feels like the right addition.”

Sophomore Emma Jordan was an El Taco regular, and, while she says will miss an old favorite, she’s excited at the new prospects Ela brings.

“I started going [to El Taco] five years ago,” Jordan said. “It was definitely more of a family, bringing a party feel. I really enjoyed going when I could. It is definitely a place that I have a lot of memories of. I wish they could have stayed open, but it sounds like this new place will bring a new look to the area, and I hope to go in the future.”

Mark Jeffers, the vice president of culinary for Fifth Group, said Ela captures the best qualities of El Taco and polishes them for a more elevated experience.

“El Taco was a neighborhood staple in Virginia-Highland for 15 years,” Jeffers said. “It did a great job of providing a fun, casual and unpretentious place for families and friends to gather for Tex-Mex and [margaritas]. Ela accomplishes many of those same great qualities, but the ambiance, space, food and beverage have all been dialed up with a touch of sophistication and energy. Ela’s dining experience is filled with subtle, yet thoughtful touchpoints that let you know that this isn’t an ordinary Mediterranean restaurant.”

Simon acknowledges the challenges of opening a restaurant but is excited to serve again.

“Opening a restaurant is always a challenge, from renovations and permitting to branding, menu development and hiring, but we are so happy to be here and grateful for the opportunity to serve the VA-Hi neighborhood again,” Simon said.

Simon said he hopes community support continues after observing a prosperous opening for Ela.

“Opening week was a successful whirlwind,” Simon said. “We have felt overwhelming love and support from the neighborhood, as well as tons of enthusiasm from the community. We’re excited for what the future holds.”

Jeffers collaborates with Darragh Dudley, who directs the kitchen as Ela’s executive chef.

“We met Chef Dudley through mutual connections in Atlanta, and we are thrilled to have him at the helm of our kitchen working closely alongside our VP of culinary, Mark Jeffers,” Simon said. “He’s eager to step out of his comfort zone and create new buzz around the city — focusing on elegantly simple, sustainable dishes, while leading guests through a timeless experience to the Mediterranean.”

Ela’s menu was developed by Jeffers, who wanted to incorporate many Mediterranean flavors while focusing on the shared plates so common in this region’s cuisine.

“We actually are referring to the menu as Pan-Mediterranean because it encapsulates the rich diversity of the Mediterranean, embracing Greek, Moroccan, Israeli and Turkish flavors,” Jeffers said. “We love the communal, casual and approachable nature of Mediterranean cuisine, hence the dedication to mezze, dips, house-made pita and larger, grilled entrees.”

Fifth Group wanted to create a name that matched the Mediterranean roots of their food and the welcoming vibe of their restaurant.

“Ela’s name is a combination of ‘elia’ the Greek word for olive, and ‘ela’ which is loosely translated as ‘come now,’” Simon said. “The name matches the interiors with earth tones and natural materials. You can expect a warm and inviting ambiance that also feels cozy. Every detail, from the handcrafted light fixtures to the collected plates and cups, ?celebrates the rich tapestry of Mediterranean culture.”

Jeffers has high hopes for Ela’s role in the community and aspires for it to become a familiar favorite that everyone in the neighborhood can enjoy and celebrate at.

“Our overarching goal is to embrace and engrain ourselves in the community,” Jeffers said. “We want to become a cherished staple that everyone in the neighborhood can rely on for every occasion. We want those who live in other areas of the city or are traveling in from elsewhere, to seek Ela out as a must-visit restaurant. We want it to be a warm and familiar spot that comes to mind for any memorable moment, big or small.”

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About the Contributor
Penelope Keenan
Penelope Keenan, Writer
Penelope Keenan is a sophomore and this is her first year on the newspaper. Outside of school she is part of the mock trial and ultimate frisbee teams. She's excited to write for the Southerner this year.

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