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Multiple Tacos, credit_Velvet Taco.jpg Photo courtesy of Velvet Taco
Chef Venecia Willis, Velvet Taco's director of culinary, said the team loves the challenge of the WTF and takes pride in offering something unique each week.

How Velvet Taco keeps up with its Weekly Taco Feature

Velvet Taco’s WTF program requires intense ideation and preparation and is scheduled several months in advance. The challenge is “thrilling,” according to the restaurant’s director of culinary Venecia Willis.

Velvet Taco is very much attempting to redefine the standard definition of a taco and is doing so by offering unique creations such as the Kobe bacon burger taco, beer battered cauliflower taco, and the chicken and waffle taco.

There’s also the company’s signature Weekly Taco Feature, or WTF, which has included everything from chimichurri veggie to French dip tacos to its annual Pride taco to the 420 Blazin’. During a recent tour of a Dallas Velvet Taco location, the team served up a lasagna taco, with a parmesan crusted tortilla, meat sauce made in-house, and ricotta balls on top, as well as a potsticker taco, with seasoned pork, scallions, sweet chile sauce, sriracha aioli, and kimchee slaw.

“Our unique product is definitely what sets us apart. We want to educate people on what a taco could be and that’s anything you want to be served in a tortilla,” CEO Clay Dover said during a recent interview.  

These are creations not typically found in a nearly-50-unit taco concept. Everything, down to the sauces and house-brined pickles, is scratch-made within each restaurant. The brisket is roasted in-store for 18 hours, while the brand’s signature $15 backdoor (rotisserie) chicken is prepped for 48 hours.

In an environment in which efficiency has become a major priority, Velvet Taco is taking an intentionally complex approach. Some WTFs have up to eight SKUs, for instance.

“We like the challenge of it all. It’s thrilling. We get excited about making something that gives us pride in our work, and we know our guests like the unique flavors we bring to them. We’re going to continue to push those limits on what we can do. It supports culinary creativity. If you get into this field, you don’t necessarily want to come in and do the same thing every day,” chef Venecia Willis (“Chef V”), director of culinary, said during a recent interview.

Willis is in charge of facilitating Velvet Taco’s “promise,” which is to “liberate the senses.” Doing so at a weekly pace is part of that “thrilling challenge.” To execute on the signature WTF, the Velvet Taco culinary team ideates about once a month, bringing six taco ideas to the table. Then they talk through the feasibility of each and test them for operations, taste, look, overall appeal.

“Wednesday I’ll be in the kitchen all day working on tacos and trying to take the idea from thought to actual product. I’ll take pictures, document everything, and the following day we’ll do the prep to make sure we didn’t miss anything,” she said. “We sit down at a round table and fill out surveys and talk through all of it. Does it meet certain criteria? Does it feel accessible for the guest? Is it too messy? Did it fall apart?”

From there, the team selects the top choice and that choice goes into a holding pattern on the company’s annual calendar. Velvet Taco’s WTFs are currently filled in through September. Many of them, like the Halloween, 420 or Pride tacos, are tied into a broader holiday/marketing calendar, but the company leaves room for nimbleness.

“We leave a couple of spaces for anything that is a big trend we can activate,” Willis said. “But if we don’t love it, it’s not going to make it.”

Choosing her favorite WTF would be like asking her to choose a favorite child. That said, Willis a big fan of Halloween, so the late October “Basic Witch” taco, with a black-and-orange tie-dyed tortilla, fried pumpkin pie, and gummy worms made in-house ranks up there. If any taco were to illustrate the diversity of what this team puts out, it is perhaps one filled with homemade gummy worms.

“The tortilla just serves as a vessel. There are no limitations on what we can do,” Willis said.

Having the WTF program in place builds frequency and anticipation, executives said. Last year, Velvet Taco hosted its first WTF recipe contest for National Taco Day in October, for instance, and received over 800 ideas. The “Welly Welly WTF,” with Dijon glazed filet, mushroom duxelles, crispy prosciutto ham, red wine demi, and thyme puff pastry, emerged victorious. The idea was to emulate beef wellington.

The WTF has also contributed to the swift growth of Velvet Taco’s fledging loyalty program (the Velvet Room launched a year and a half ago and now counts about 600,000 members) and its sales growth, which were nearly 25% higher year-over-year.

To support the program, Willis and her team work diligently to stay on top of emerging culinary flavors, keeping an eye on globally inspired ingredients and combinations. Trends, she said, fall in and out, so they try to adhere to offerings that are “unique, but not totally out there.”

“We still want it to be accessible. We don’t want people to be intimidated,” she said.

Providing such accessibility is one of her favorite parts of the job, she added.

“We’re democratizing some of these items,” Willis said. “We’re bringing tikka to people in Oklahoma and bringing these flavors to more people and connecting them with food memories.”

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

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