Eight founders and leaders from several successful Pasadena-based restaurant brands — including Dog Haus, Blaze Pizza, Wetzel’s Pretzels, and Gus’s BBQ — have come together to open a new fast-casual taco concept. Taco/Social is opening Sept. 26 in the Eagle Rock community of Los Angeles and will serve up unconventional tacos with global flavors (think banh mi, tikka masala, and NOLA po boy) alongside tequila-based cocktails.
The unique collaboration between this group of restaurateurs — including Elise Wetzel, co-founder of Blaze Pizza; André Vener, co-founder of Dog Haus and Michael Montagano, CEO of Dog Haus; and John Bicos, co-founder of Gus’s BBQ — began as an industry friendship among local popular operators, but eighteen months ago they decided to create a new food concept together.
“We all have a ton of respect for each other…. And we all collaborate and listen to each other because… everyone’s been successful, and they all have their own skill sets,” André Vener told Nation’s Restaurant News in an exclusive interview, adding that the team also helped put in place a stellar management team to run the restaurant on an everyday basis. “It’s been a great passion project and a lot of fun…. You might have been running a franchise for 10 or 20 years, but you still learn from each other.”
The menu is unconventional, with no rice and beans on the menu. Instead, customers can order one of the many creative taco flavors made with homemade tortillas, as well as street corn, house-made queso, loaded nachos and a shareable milk and cookies cake (their take on the tres leches dessert). Specialty cocktails are tequila forward and were created in collaboration with celebrity mixologist Phil Wills, and include options like the Sweet/Smoke Margarita, Oaxacan Old Fashioned and Hot Honey Whiskey Lemonade.
“We’re all here from L.A., so you’re going to have an L.A. vibe to this brand,” Vener said. “Just like Dog Haus, we have hot dogs with eggs, avocado, arugula, and tomatoes and that is not the traditional way. If you look at the tortilla in the same way as that King’s Hawaiian hot dog bun, it’s the same as a sandwich. So why can’t you have a cheeseburger taco, why can’t you put anything you want in there?”
At the flagship location of Taco/Social, guests will nosh on and imbibe tacos and tequila inside a historic 5,000-square-foot brick building in the Eagle Rock community of Los Angeles, which includes indoor dining, bar seating, an outdoor patio, and a private dining room for special events. Moving forward, Vener and his team believes this concept has the potential for expansion across the country, given its cross-demographic mass appeal.
“Our first goal is to open the restaurant next week—we just want to have a successful, amazing quality food that we can bring your friends and your community and have a fun time with a taco and margarita,” Vener said. “The eight of us who got together probably have a bigger vision in mind, but we’ll first open up a cool store and go from there.”
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