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Shake Shack’s Founder Raises $27 Million For NYC Taquería In Hopes of Annihilating Chipotle and Taco Bell

Via Tacombi/Facebook

A taco that has its origins on a VM bus in the southern Mexican state of Quintana Roo may soon become a household name in the United States.

Eater NY reports that Danny Meyer, the big-shot Manhattan restaurateur behind Union Square Hospitality and the Shake Shack empire, has raised $27.5 million in funding to expand the Tacombi chain of taquerias into a national presence to rival the Chipotles and Taco Bells of the world.

An estimated 75 Tacombis will open in the next five years, with a focus first on existing markets on the east coast, including new outposts in D.C., Miami, Connecticut, Jersey, and Long Island. The chain seems to be wisely eschewing tac-ompetition with the taquerias of L.A. and our other western bredren. At least for the time being.

Currently, there are 13 Tacombi’s in New York, serving a sustainably-minded menu of eight tacos, six burritos and four quesadillas on handmade flour tortillas, and various entradas, bearing significant gourmet promises such as “Sonora-style” Holstein beef, beer-battered Alaskan cod, and free-range chicken. In addition, the business has a retail line of organic chips, salsas, and tortillas under the Vista Hermosa name.

On a website designed to look like a janky portal for a Yucatan operator of cenote tours and dolphin frolics, we also learn the taqueria has a heart, having started The Tacombi Foundation, a successful meal delivery program for low-income families, amidst quarantine, with over 4,000 meals served weekly.

The restaurant has its origins in a ’63 Volkswagen bus, known as a “combi” or “kombi,” lending the Tacombi concept its name. Dario Wolos, the chain’s founder and CEO, bought it in 2006, traveled a bit with his girl, and then parked it in Playa del Carmen. He asked a friend’s dad to school him in the art of barbacoa de lengua. Then the New York-born, Monterey, Mexico-raised Wolos turned the van into a beachside taqueria. He eventually expanded it to a second location before sticking the VW on a Miami-bound boat and transporting the concept to a garage in downtown Manhattan in 2010, where it soon caught fire with the Nolita set.

As the chain expanded, so did the menu, which grew to embrace a more diverse Mexican menu of D.F.-style pastor, carnitas, and Sonoran-style asada inspired by the owners’ family road trips through Mexico as a child. Tacombi also claims to employ somewhat autonomous taqueros at every location, mostly all hailing from Mexico and California ("which to Mexicans is just Northern Mexico," he once told The Standard Hotel's blog).

This week, Wolos told Nation’s Restaurant News,“I really believe what we do is a perspective on Mexico that a lot of people will love across the U.S.”

Joining Meyer’s growth equity fund in bolstering Tacombi are Mexican investment firm Rodina and a private equity firm named Capital Mazapil, as well as Stonyfield Farm co-founder Gary Hirschberg. The money will not only allow the company to expand, but also streamline its systems, weigh potential overseas licensing partnerships (specifically in Shake Shack-friendly markets), and build on the Vista Hermosa brand.

So, wow. This Mexican food chain with humble origins somehow survived the last 18 months in New York and is now getting laced with $27 million. Not bad, Tacombi, not bad at all.

We may be seeing the emergence of a new contender in the world of fast-casual Mexican chains. One that has the good intentions and sustainable mind of a Chipotle, with more authentic cooking, an owner with roots in Mexico, and (woohoo!) cocktails and beer.

All and all, if it means less diarrheic barbacoa that looks like this, we’re already looking forward to seeing it win hearts and minds in the nation’s coming taco war.

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