The Cambridge Candle


Vol. 1, No. 1

November/December 1998


Unsung Hero
A series of profiles on persons who make Cambridge a better place in which to live and work

Israel (“Izzy”) Maldonado

By Lawrence Prift

Israel Maldonado, proprietor of Izzy’s Restaurant & Sub Shop, 169 Harvard Street, calls each of his customers “primo.” The Spanish term for “cousin” aptly describes the friendly atmosphere in this family owned-and-operated restaurant, nestled in Cambridge’s Washington Elms housing area.

Restaurant chains, working out of many locations, rely on marketing budgets and consumer surveys to decide their menu selection. The portion size itself is pre-determined for the diner. An independent restauranteur may offer a menu fashioned to the customer’s palette. “I provide food my customer wants,” says Izzy, adding that he knows the portion size and extra touches his steady customers prefer.

Izzy and Carmen Maldonado
Izzy and Carmen Maldonado greet the public at Izzy’s Restaurant and Sub Shop, Cambridge. (Photo by Lawrence Prift.)

Carmen, Izzy’s wife, prepares food on the premises for the restaurant’s 150-200 daily customers. Favorite dishes of Izzy’s culturally diverse clientele include steak, rice and beans, fried pork, fish, fajita (beef or chicken), tripe soup, chicken soup, and fish/shrimp soup, all popularly priced. Carmen proudly states that all the soups are made fresh on the premises.

Ours is a nation of immigrants. Cambridge’s 1990 resident population was 95, 802.  Of that number, 21, 350 (22%) were foreign born. In 1995, an estimated 8% of Cambridge residents were Hispanic, 68% were white non-Hispanic, 15% were African-American, and 9% were Asian or Native American.

Izzy Maldonado’s American journey began in 1965 when, at age 17, he travelled from his native Puerto Rico to visit relatives in Cambridge. Izzy recalls that he liked the place so much that he decided to stay. Indeed, chuckles Izzy, he even liked snow!  He moved into an apartment on Austin Street (now, Bishop Allen Drive) not knowing one single word of English. He learned English on the streets and in the neighborhood.  “Jobs were plentiful in 1965,” recalls Izzy, with many employers giving bonuses to employees who recruited labor.  For three months, he worked at a Watertown laundry for $1.25 an hour. He then worked at a Boston clothing manufacturer and a seat covering firm. There followed ten years of employment at Advent Corporation’s speaker assembly plant on Albany Street.He left Advent in 1978, earning $7.50 an hour.

Izzy and Carmen met in 1966 (Carmen’s brother was also Izzy’s friend). Wed in 1971, they have two children -- Alex, 23, and Lisa, 20 -- and two grandsons, both four years old.

While on vacation in Puerto Rico in 1978, Izzy observed that Carmen’s sister ran a successful restaurant. In 1980, following her example, he established a restaurant at the corner of Columbia Street and Broadway. When he lost his lease in 1986, he relocated to Florida.

In 1989, Izzy and Carmen returned to Cambridge and established a restaurant at the present location, the corner of Harvard and Windsor streets. A vacant candy store had occupied the site and a Spanish restaurant was already doing business in the neighborhood. Neighbors and community advocates were successful in helping Izzy obtain the appropriate license from the Cambridge License Commission. Izzy and Carmen established the restaurant using their own savings and resources.

Conventional wisdom suggests that most businesses avoid setting up shop in the inner city, preferring instead the more affluent suburban clientele. Cambridge, however, has 263 licensed non-alcoholic restaurants. Of these 192 are sole or joint proprietorships doing business at a single location. Izzy indicates that he is the only Cambridge restauranteur who is native Puerto Rican. (A visitor to Izzy’s hears both English and Spanish spoken.)

Inside Izzy's Restaurant
IZZY’S IS BUSY! Izzy Maldonado serves a culturally diverse clientele of 150-200 daily. (Photo by Lawrence Prift.)

Izzy Maldonado remarks that a small business owner has direct control over the entire enterprise. He works in the restaurant six days a week and closes the establishment when business is very slow -- three weeks each in the winter and summer.  Arranging work schedules for his four employees is easier done by a hands-on, on-site manager than by a corporate office. While operating expenses are higher in 1998 than ever before, Izzy notes that he has far less overhead than do larger organizations. Also, he owns the building.

“The neighborhood treats me good,” remarks Izzy. He returns the favor by donating five meals a week to a charity located in Central Square. Izzy, looking to the future, expresses concern that the Kendall Square area is “beginning to look like downtown Boston. High rentals. All businesses. No residences.”

Whatever the future may bring, Izzy and Carmen Maldonado continue to demonstrate daily that the immigrant experience and the small business entrepreneur can do well in Cambridge.

Izzy’s Restaurant & Sub Shop, 169 Harvard Street, Cambridge, is open Monday through Friday, 10:00am to 8:30pm; Saturday 10:00am to 8:00pm. Closed Sunday. Phone: 617-661-3910.


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