A group of veteran operators are joining forces to jump into the increasingly crowded fast-casual tacos niche.
The new Taco/Social is scheduled to debut next week in Los Angeles offering globally inspired tacos and a full bar, with tequila-forward cocktails as a specialty.
Behind this concept as investors is an eclectic mix of experienced operators: Rick and Elise Wetzel, who co-founded both Wetzel’s Pretzels and Blaze Pizza; the team behind Dog Haus, including co-founder André Vener and Dog Haus’ new CEO Michael Montagano (formerly of Kitchen United).
And the partners also include John and Chris Bicos, brothers whose father founded The Original Tops burger concept in Pasadena, Calif. The Bicos brothers later bought Gus’s BBQ, which now has three units, as well as the bar/lounge Magnolia House.
“We each bring something to the party,” said Wetzel.
Taco/Social came about after he and his wife Elise found what he described as a fantastic location in an historic 5,000-square-foot building in Los Angeles’ Eagle Rock neighborhood—which is next to Pasadena, where the partners are all neighbors.
Initially, the Wetzels attempted a chicken concept called Lucky Bird at the spot, but it was killed by the pandemic and high chicken prices.
Then the neighbors all started talking about doing something together in that building.
The result is Taco/Social, offering a menu of “freeform” tacos that borrow from flavors all over the world, with names like Greek Life, Banh Mi, NOLA Po Boy and Tikka Masala. The menu was developed in consultation with “Top Chef” alum Ilan Hall and the executive chef in the restaurant is Jonathan Paiz.
Vener said the inspiration really came more from the international mashup that is Los Angeles. Dog Haus is also known for topping hot dogs with culinary touches from around the world.
“A taco is a flour tortilla and you can put anything you want on it,” he said. “We live in LA, and this is a very LA/So Cal/beachy concept and we’re a melting pot in LA.”
Specialty drinks at the bar were developed with mixologist Phil Wills, who is a regular on “Bar Rescue.”
Taco/Social is positioned to be affordable, with tacos about $5, but also more elevated than, say, the 40-unit Velvet Taco, which also has a similarly eclectic “globally inspired” menu, but where batch margaritas are held in a drink machine.
Taco/Social will have a full bar with cocktails made to order by a bartender, though there will also be craft beers and signature cocktails on tap.
There will be indoor/outdoor seating that will be welcoming to families. The restaurant will be open for lunch and dinner, and later the plan is to add brunch on weekends.
Wetzel emphasized that Taco/Social is not attempting to approximate an authentic Mexican, or even Tex-Mex, concept.
“Am I appropriating Mexican food? I don’t think I am,” he said. “I’m just using the base to put different flavors. We built this for the neighborhood.”
Wetzel is also anticipating a brisk off-premise business, that could account for up to 50% of sales.
Taco/Social is designed to scale—though when asked if it will be multiplied, he said, “Everyone likes to scale, so we’ll see. We’re going to see what we got."
Wetzel and several of the other partners are also franchise brand operators, specifically. So if Taco/Social grows, franchising is the likely path, he added. (Velvet Taco, it should be noted, does not franchise.)
“That’s all I know how to do,” he said.
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