The guys behind Taco Cat: "We've gotten better at our jobs."
Emily Eveland Tristan and Dan of Taco Cat
When Tristan Jimerson and Daniel Laeger-Hagemeister set out to open Taco Cat, their palindromic bicycle-delivered taco service, they didn't expect anywhere near the response they received within their first few weeks of business. But this is the age of the internet, and in Minneapolis, word of anything regarding tacos, cats, and bicycles spreads fast.
Last week, we checked in with Jimerson and Laeger-Hagemeister to hear how things have progressed since their April opening.
Hot Dish: How has business been going?
Tristan Jimerson: Things are going really well. Looking back, our business has changed so much. We didn't really know what we were doing at first. We still don't know what we're doing, but we have a little bit better of an idea. We're starting to put systems in place for things that didn't exist before. It's starting to feel more like a proper business. Things are running much smoother than they were in the beginning.
Daniel Laeger-Hagemeister: Much less chaotic.
Tristan: The quality of service has gone up, the quality of food has gone up. We've gotten some things under control. We still feel a lot of great outpouring of support from the community. That hasn't changed.
What were the first few weeks of business like?
Dan: Madness. Just madness. All over the place.
Tristan: We got a lot more press than we had anticipated. Before the first night, we had never cooked in this kitchen before, so we didn't have systems for anything. We were just kind of throwing stuff together as we went. You make it through and no one catches on fire and no one dies. It's just food. But it was definitely more stressful than it needed to be. But then things have kind of leveled out now and we're steadily increasing in sales. We're getting more regular customers and people are coming back to try it again, which is really nice. We weren't sure if it was going to be this flash-in-the-pan, "this is a weird novelty" thing. Like, I'm going to get this once and totally forget about it.
Dan: It was really, really busy for the first two weeks. Then it kind of slowed down and plateaued and we changed some things -- started doing specials and business has been going up since then. It doesn't feel so challenging and stressful anymore to do a lot of business, because we've gotten better at our jobs.
How many orders were you getting per night after those first few articles came out?
Dan: We were doing like 70 deliveries a night for the first couple weeks and then it kind of dropped off to a more regular number and it's been going back up since we started doing the new menu.
Tristan: We hadn't cooked in here before, we had a super basic menu, and we didn't really have time to work on it and figure out what worked best. We had never cooked some of the stuff to keep for several hours. Some friends of mine worked on the menu with me and we pushed out some really good stuff that we're happy with. Something as simple as adding rice and beans as a side took us four months to do, just because you get so busy and you're just so focused on keeping the thing open and running that you don't have time to do anything extra. We brought a few more people on, which has helped us step back a bit and do more management and forward planning.
What's your process for devising new recipes?
Tristan: I was lucky that I have a lot of really talented friends in the business. We're a pretty open business model. I'm not closed off about this stuff. When people make suggestions, I take them, or I listen to them at least. It feels much more communal in this kitchen than in other places where there's a head chef. Our menu is just kind of cobbled together with some great recipes.
You mentioned that quality has gone up. How so?
Tristan: We transitioned from cooking smaller plates to cooking on a larger scale. There's a difference there. Things that we were cooking before didn't keep for very long, so then you'd make a bunch of it and a bunch of it wouldn't be nearly as good. We're doing a lot more slow cooked stuff, a lot more stuff that gets better as it sits and can kind of stew in its own juices. We still have short order stuff. Having everything short order was really difficult for us. They're just better recipes. Some of the guys that have been contributing are way better cooks than me. It's great to have that input. I've worked in kitchens before, but I'm definitely not a chef.
We were doing really basic street-style tacos when we first started and we're still doing those, but we've expanded. We've done some more fusion tacos.
Are the toppings homemade?
Tristan: Everything we do here is homemade, with the exception of the tortillas from La Perla. We do our own rice and beans. We don't get canned refried beans -- those are all done by hand. We try to take the extra step to make sure everything is the highest quality it can be.