Crested Butte’s Tacos Locál shut its doors for good on September 26, but not for the reasons you may think. It wasn’t hamstrung by capacity restrictions, lack of seating, or business drying up due to COVID. After all, who doesn’t want to eat tacos (a strong contender for the best dish of all time—fight us) in the middle of a global crisis?
Instead, the tiny taqueria closed because there were too many people streaming through its doors. Evan Simmons, who was the executive chef there (after several years at Denver’s now-defunct Central Bistro and Candela Latin Kitchen), pointed to a combination of staffing difficulties as well as the limitations of the space itself: “I can’t do multiple 2,000 [taco] days in a row without a walk-in, without an oven.” Essentially, the spot was a victim of its own success (though Simmons didn’t rule out relocating sometime in the future). Here’s what else he had to say.
DiningOut: Tacos Locál closed at the end of September. Why?
Evan Simmons: It was a result of volume. Staffing is really hard up here; there are some of the same issues that I was having in Denver, but it’s a smaller pool of people to pull from. And COVID summer was a lot busier than the same time last year, even more than ski season.
We were coming up on a hood install that the landlord wanted the owners to help with and they couldn’t get on the same page. And basically, we needed a walk-in.
DO: What months saw your largest revenues in 2020?
ES: July and August.
DO: What were your revenues like compared to the same time last year?
ES: They weren’t quite double, but were at least 30 percent more.
DO: What do you think was the biggest driver of your profitability this year?
ES: People visiting from the city. Summer has always been the busiest time of the year. There was a big local factor as well. People were working hard and needed a break. They needed a sense of normalcy. [Tacos Locál] was long and narrow and attached to the busiest bar in town, Kochevars. It’s pretty social being attached to the bar; we’ve done a lot of memorial services, a lot of parties. And people would have a little too much to drink and I’d feed them some tater tots and bring them back to life.
DO: Did you offer takeout or delivery prior to or for any portion of the shutdown?
ES: [During the] mandatory shut down in Crested Butte we did a lot of to go. COVID taught people how to order to go; we’ve never done more phone-in orders. We were open noon to 10:30 p.m. with someone just taking to-go orders. We could barely staff the restaurant; we couldn’t spare the staff to do delivery. We reopened in early June. The bar is one of the only late night spots in Crested Butte and with the 10 p.m. last call, there’s no reason to be there after the bar closes.
DO: Did you expand your patio seating, and if so, did it made a significant difference for your business?
ES: It was really cool: The town changed Elk (Avenue] from two-way into one-way from into 2 way and gave all the businesses space on the street. All of a sudden we had two patios instead of one. It was first come, first served with the bar seating, too. We had four tables inside and three out front.
DO: How have roles in the restaurant changed?
ES: We didn’t have to shift around roles, but there were some new roles up front. We added more FOH stations and a FOH person.
DO: What advice would you give to other bars and restaurants looking to thrive right now?
ES: It’s almost a matter of geography. It seems the more rural places are doing well.
DO: And conversely, what do you want to hear about/learn from other restaurants?
ES: I’m just curious to see how it goes in Denver with the 25 percent.
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