Taco Reho turns the volume up to ‘11’ on Coastal Highway
I’ve written more than once that restaurants close for all sorts of reasons. Squabbles with family, partners, franchisors or even landlords can shutter an eatery that is otherwise doing well. Of course, finances can play a role one way or another, but occasionally a restaurateur will simply get tired of the day-in-day-out craziness.
A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of speaking to Rehoboth Burger King boss Frank Czerwinski on my radio show, shortly before he chose to leave the Coastal Highway location. The reasons were his own and involved a number of factors, but I’ll admit the announcement caused quite a stir among my readers and listeners. I’ve lost count of the number of emails I received asking what would replace Frank’s Burger King at that high-visibility spot.
At this point it’s no secret that La Vida Hospitality has acquired the building. Taco Reho creator Billy Lucas, La Vida boss Josh Grapski and their associates are adding a brick & mortar aspect to their supremely popular Taco Reho Truck. As is typical with La Vida Hospitality, the concept will be markedly different from any of their other concepts.
Billy Lucas has followed two distinct paths in his life. “It’s the curse of the Gemini,” he tells me. His experiences as a trained chef even included a stint at Thomas Keller’s famous French Laundry restaurant in California. But, as is often the case with us Geminis, one thing led to another, and he began to distinguish himself as a caterer to the stars. Billy headed up crews that traveled alongside big-name rock bands, creating their meals and backstage craft services for band and crew during the huge concerts. Many of these fully outfitted kitchens were contained in massive 18-wheelers that traveled with the bands.
Billy left the relentless grind of rock band concerts and, along with Grapski, eventually created an amalgam of his two (actually three) loves: upbeat food and leading-edge music. The third love is surfing and the beach. And therefrom was born Taco Reho.
The new concept now under construction will mirror the original mobile fast-casual modality, but they’re calling it “fast-casual plus” because many aspects of the made-to-order taco/burrito concept couldn’t have happened in the confines of a truck. For example, guests will have a choice of how they’d like to be served. There will be standard counter service where you can order and pick up for noshing on-site or to carry out. But customers who want to take in the entire experience (read on!) can sit at a table and order one of two ways: entirely electronic, using QR codes and their smartphone, or with an actual human server. There will also be a bar, a double-lane drive-through and online ordering for quick pickup.
I mentioned the “entire experience” above. The tacos, burritos, quesadillas and SoCal-inspired tastes will be part of the experience. Billy describes their construction: “They’ll have a touch of L.A.,” he says, “a pinch of San Francisco and a skosh of San Diego to round out the whole SoCal vibe.” As with the truck, their meats are prepared and cooked on site, and onions, veggies and the like are sourced locally. All the sauces are made fresh every day. Billy again sums it up: “They’re made from ‘beyond scratch.’”
But, wait! There’s more! Taste is an olfactory experience, and Lucas has managed to create both visual and aromatic elements with a custom-built, torteria-like concept where the masa for the corn tortillas is made quite literally from scratch – starting with the seed and ending up as a warm, fragrant tortilla. This will be accomplished in full view using several bespoke machines that mill the seeds, then grind, blend and cook the resulting masa into the light corn tortilla that will cradle the tacos. The aromas in the restaurant will be inescapably Mexican.
So we’ve covered the taste, visual and aromatic experience. But, as you might expect from a certified taco maniac, there’s more. Billy takes his “Taco Loudly” mantra very seriously. He has hosted live bands next to (and on top of) his truck, and has debuted local bands’ CDs with informal, taco-laden listening parties. The new Taco Reho will expand on that with a curated playlist that will change with the time of day. “We’ll have a ‘chill’ vibe in the morning,” explains Lucas, “then things will get edgier as nighttime approaches.” He’s planning featured specials in the form of sets; perhaps a Metal Monday following a Reggae Sunday. Like the aroma of roasting corn and the glass-enclosed mini-tortilla factory, music will, in Billy’s words, “add a sensory component to the flavors of the food.”
Lucas, Grapski and the crew are in no particular hurry to open the new Taco Reho. “We’ll open it when we’re ready and when it’s right,” intones Grapski. When pressed, the best I could get out of them was, “Oh, probably a couple of months.”
But you can check out the food right now (see their FB page for the schedule) at Big Chill Surf Cantina on Coastal Highway where “Black Betty” – Billy’s pet name for the hulking black truck – continues to do her thing.