A bright red 1963 Volkswagen bus, or “combi,” is parked between several tables inside a Nolita taqueria. Instead of benches, this compound stores a semi-kitchen/bar. Its roof was cut and raised to reveal a chalkboard with various messages such as “Benvenidosor “Try Mezcal Unión.” ”
This group, known as “The Tacombi”, is the heart of Tacombe restaurant chainwhich currently consists of fourteen locations along the East Coast, with plans to open seven more by 2024. Today, the brand includes more than just Takeri restaurants: it sells consumer packaged goods like tortillas and totobo at Whole Foods and operates a community kitchen that distributes 5,000 meals. per week for families in need.
Before becoming an iconic downtown Manhattan destination in 2010 and an East Coast sensation in the years that followed, Tacombe was the only Tacombe, traveling the length of the Yucatan Peninsula with founder and CEO Dario Wollos.
Although Luos was born to a Mexican mother and French father in the small town of Corning, New York, he spent most of his childhood in Monterrey, Mexico. Growing up in Mexico, with time spent in the US and Canada, he dreamed of sharing his culture with the rest of the world.
Wolos decided to start taqueria in 2005. He knew he needed to start with his concept on a small scale and master it before taking it abroad, so he set out on an adventure. Travel along the Yucatan Peninsula to absorb Mexican culture and hospitality. Only after meeting countless families and dining at the many roadside tacora restaurants, Wolos parked the Tacombi next to a nightclub in Playa Del Carmen, dismantled it to turn it into a restaurant, and began selling tacos. In 2006, the first Tacombi taqueria was born.
“Maybe it’s cliched now when people say”mi casa es tu casa“But in Mexico, it really does make sense,” Woolus said, speaking to a Latina from Nolita taqueria. Having taken on Mexican flavor and hospitality on the road and in Playa del Carmen, he decided to create a permanent home for Tacombi, the truck and brand, on the streets of New York. In 2010, Wolos opened the first restaurant in Nolita.
Twelve years later, Tacombi has 14 restaurants, including locations in Florida, Virginia, Maryland and New York. In the next two years, Tacombe expects to open three restaurants in Miami, one on Long Island, another in Connecticut, and more. Since its inception, the company has also been invited to sell tortilla products in grocery stores such as Whole Foods.
Laura Merritt, Operations Manager at Tacombi, He explained that Whole Foods buyers loved Tacombi’s products so much that in 2016 he asked an employee if he could sell them at the supermarket company. Since Tacombi makes all of their products in-house, they’ve agreed to haul tortillas and totubos from their tables via the subway to Whole Foods.
Despite Tacombi’s humble roots, the “Vista Hermosa” brand’s line of frozen tortillas, totubos and burritos is now Whole Foods’ best-selling brand and is distributed along the East Coast and in Texas. In February, Iter considered that Vista Hermosa tutupos Best nachos chips.
The Tacombi team works to maintain the integrity of Mexican culture in all its endeavours. ““When it’s authentically prepared, Mexican food is perfect,” Merritt said. She emphasized that at Tacombi they don’t take shortcuts. Tortillas are prepared using traditional Mayan and Aztec practices NixtamalizationWhere one treats corn with cooked, dried and ground lemons in order to unlock its flavor, aroma, vitamins and minerals.
However, Wolos reminds us that Mexican food is not without the people behind it. “Mexico’s biggest resource is not its oil, not anything, but its people,” he said. He set out to work not only to share Mexico with the world but also to give back to the community he gave to him, and to taco lovers everywhere, so much.
Wolos believes that Tacombi borrows from Mexico “the recipes belong to these people: tal señorita, tal abuelitaAnd that the country and society deserve something in return. This belief was pivotal to a brand like the discontinued Combi at Nolita. Its mission to help Mexican and Latin American communities is what really drives Tacombi forward.
With this purpose in mind, Wolos has continually sought ways to invest in the education of the Latino community. If schools or education-related charities request the use of the taqueria for events, Wolos always agree. In 2019, he founded the Tacombi Foundation in hopes of helping local Latino communities and pre-investing in Mexico through education.
When the pandemic hit, Wools and his team realized that the foundation’s mission was greater than education: to feed those in need. Although they have had to close their restaurants during the lockdown, they can still use their kitchens. As the pandemic prevented many Latin American immigrants from working and earning enough money to feed their families, Tacombi created a community kitchen that is now a permanent affiliate of the brand.
Susanna Camarena, Senior Director of Impact and Culture at Tacombi, runs the Tacombi Foundation and Community Kitchen. Speaking to LATINA on Zoom, she highlighted Taqueria’s altruistic efforts: “Tacombi exists to serve not only our guests and customers but also our team members and community.”
The Tacombi Foundation has donated more than 400,000 meals to families in need since 2020. Each time they open a new restaurant, Tacombi finds local partners who can benefit from the Foundation’s work. They also recruit locally and provide employment for many immigrants from Latin America. While they still hope to invest in Mexicano through education, the Tacombi Foundation’s core program is currently community kitchen.
Furthermore, Tacombi uses his foundation to instill his values in Tacombi’s employees, sometimes inviting general managers to see the foundation’s impact firsthand. Managers sometimes help distribute meals or prepare guacamole with local children.
“I wouldn’t be here if I knew that Tacombe is just a business, not a community one,” Camarena says.
Their biggest charitable act to date is directing all of their earnings on Cinco de Mayo, the busiest day of the year, to the foundation. Camarena likened it to Messi donating all of her proceeds from Black Friday to one charity. Cinco de Mayo Tacombi raised $350,000 for the foundation.
The Cinco de Mayo fundraising program truly embodies what Tacombi is all about: not only sharing Mexican culture with the world but also working together and helping the Mexican community. This community, however, is not limited to Mexican citizens. After all, “everyone who loves Mexico [in] “The end is part of Mexican society,” says Camarena.