As flexitarian lifestyles become more common, plant-based fast-casual brands are popping up all over the place. But as so many vegan and vegetarian entrepreneurs pivot toward meat-free burger and bowl concepts, the four cofounders of Tacotarian saw an opportunity to take the lead in the industry whitespace of plant-based Mexican food.
Tacotarian is a growing, five-unit restaurant concept that was borne out of Las Vegas in 2018 with the idea of bringing Mexican flavors and ingredients to a burgeoning omnivorous consumer base with an interest in eating more plant-based meals.
Photo: It’s atypical for an emerging restaurant brand to be run by four people, but Tacotarian co-owners, Dan and Regina Simmons and Carlos and Kristen Corral make it work.
“Our concept is really good Mexican food that just happens to be vegan,” said Kristen Corral, cofounder of Tacotarian. “When you think of a Mexican-American restaurant, you think of yellow and orange colors, and that’s not something you always see in Mexico. We’re doing Mexican in a very modern way — we brought in bright teal, black and white, and natural woods. Plus, we serve alcohol, which is not typical of vegan brands.”
Tacotarian was founded by two couples: Kristen and Carlos Corral and Dan and Regina Simmons. Each cofounder plays a different role in the operational success of the brand. Regina Simmons handles the commissary kitchen, kitchen staff, catering, and food safety; Carlos Corral handles front of house and the bar; Kristen Corral does a lot of the PR, marketing, and outreach; and Dan Simmons handles all the financials. Carlos and Regina are both from Mexico, but from entirely different regions of the country, so they bring different geographic and cultural perspectives.
“Something that sets us apart is the experience of the four of us combined,” Regina Simmons said. “That’s something that has allowed us to scale very quickly. We all have very different backgrounds, and very different skillsets, which is something a lot of operators are lacking. You might be a good cook, but don’t know how to manage a restaurant or do the finances. … For us, it’s easier when everybody understands their position. From the beginning, we’ve been very clear on who does what.”
Photo: Tacotarian’s owners wanted to distinguish the brand from other Mexican-American brands, so opted for teal and black and white logos and color schemes over more typical sunny oranges and yellows.
Tacotarian has 13 different tacos on the menu with mostly house-made proteins and fillings, including the brand’s spin on carne asada made with seitan, barbacoa made with jackfruit, and chorizo made with soy. Tacotarian also serves meat-free burritos, flautas, quesadillas, enchiladas, birria, brunch, margaritas, and kombucha. The recipes were developed with the help of chef friends and family members, and although most of the house-made proteins are labor-intensive to make, Kristen Corral said it’s worth it to introduce their customers — most of whom identify as flexitarian rather than vegan or vegetarian — to meat-free versions of familiar taco fillings and flavors.
“We didn't want to be that basic vegan taco shop that only sells Beyond beef,” Simmons said. “Plus, a lot of vegans won’t even eat the Impossible and Beyond proteins, so it was important for us to create our own proteins. … We do have one taco that uses the Beyond beef, but the beef itself didn’t have the flavors we want, so we create our own flavors. … When we create a taco, we make it our own, from cilantro lime dressing to a vegan chili mayo, we have to make it unique.”
Over the past few years, Corral and Simmons said that the brand has expanded pretty rapidly, though 2023 was a quieter year while the company worked on its first CPG line of retail products. In 2024, Tacotarian will open one restaurant and will be launching its retail line of the brand’s birria and barbacoa. The shelf-stable, non-frozen products will be available to order online later this year, with more announcements from the brand coming soon.
“My ideal vision for the brand would be to have a Tacotarian in every major city,” Corral said. “About 75% of our customer base is not vegetarian or vegan — they just love really good Mexican food. A lot of cities don’t even have access to good Mexican food, especially in the Northeast. So I think people would really enjoy having our food in their city.”
Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected]
Get to know the rest of the 2024 Breakout Brands: