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Taco Vega is a casual plant-based restaurant focused on serving nutritious, locally-sourced foods by chef Jared Simons in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles. He opened in January 2021 and weathered a tough year but, on January 22, 2022, Simons announced on Instagram that he would be closing the restaurant. After posting his video, Simons received an outpouring of support from loyal customers – including two of his best sales days ever – and he has been able to stay open. We spoke with him on February 17.
We are only a year old, and as you can imagine, opening during these times, every day you’re headed into a headwind. The end of the year for us was a bit rough. When you couple what’s going on in our neighborhood, with crime and parking and a surge of COVID, it made for a recipe that not a lot of people wanted to eat out. The winter months burned up what was left of my runway to operate and I had to take a look at the cash in the bank and what the obligations were to operate this restaurant.
My decision to close was solely based on what was in the bank and what it cost to open on a daily basis. I looked at the calendar and picked a date. After discussing it with my staff, I made an announcement on Instagram. It had been so quiet for us in the neighborhood, but I saw a little increase on Saturday and Sunday, as some people came out to support us.
Coming in Monday morning, I didn’t think much of it. Monday is typically a quiet day. A lot of retail on the street is closed. An hour in, we started getting a little busy and by mid-afternoon we were pretty slammed. I shut the online orders off at 7 p.m. because we simply couldn’t keep up with the volume. I was blown away that so many people came out on a Monday to support the restaurant. Monday was a record day for us in regards to sales. It was the second best sales day in the restaurant’s history, only behind Cinco de Mayo.
Tuesday, I told the staff to anticipate being busy and we certainly were. I had to shut off online ordering again at 8 p.m. because we were running so low on food, I had to pull the gate down and turn away the phone calls and any new customers. It was our new record day in sales. On the way home that night, I had reached out to tell a couple people what was going on with the revenue our past couple days. It’s pretty emotionally draining to close a restaurant. Plus, I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. COVID drained my bank account prior to the restaurant opening, when I was sitting idle trying to get it started. And quite honestly, there aren’t a lot of job opportunities for a guy who doesn’t want to cook animals.
I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. COVID drained my bank account prior to the restaurant opening, when I was sitting idle trying to get it started. And quite honestly, there aren’t a lot of job opportunities for a guy who doesn’t want to cook animals.
One of my advisors reached out to me Wednesday morning and told me I should stay open one more day. I said I didn’t know if I could emotionally do it. I was prepared to close the restaurant, do the payroll and go home and try to figure out my life. But that day, I asked every customer that walked in the door “If I opened tomorrow, would you come back?” and every single person said “Absolutely.”
I put on Instagram that we would continue to stay open as long as we were supported. As long as I made enough to pay for food and staff, I had already paid the next month of rent. It wasn’t going to hurt. Also, prior to making the decision, I did talk to my staff and I was going to be ok if they said no. But they wanted to do it. So I put the announcement out that I would continue to go day by day and we would see what happens. Wednesday we exceeded the capacity of what I even thought the kitchen was physically capable of. Thursday then turned into Friday. And I said I would go to the Super Bowl and make a decision. We pre-sold a lot of catering for the Super Bowl and we continue to have the support. On the back end, I’m trying to figure something out. With the newfound support and the community really showing their want and desire for this restaurant, it’s reenergized some of my investors and brought new investors to the table. Ultimately I do need to raise capital for things that would help make this restaurant sustainable. I truly feel like this location is sustainable but I understand the neighborhood is plagued by its issues.
I know that if I opened this concept in a more desirable location it would probably thrive. I don’t want to say it hasn’t thrived. It’s just never had the right marketing and I think that the last few weeks have shown that there’s a tremendous community that supports us. I think the story is really about the community coming together to support a niche business during COVID. I really think that we’re at the forefront of a changing dining scene and I don’t even think a lot of our customers are vegan. I cater to the masses and I just want to be a better food choice for people. Whether you’re eating for your health, the planet, or animals, I just want to serve better food and make it accessible quickly. I want to build this brand and scale the restaurants.
I asked every customer that walked in the door “If I opened tomorrow, would you come back?” and every single person said “Absolutely.”
I’m in this week-by-week situation until I can get all of these pieces on the backend figured out and come to a resolution to keep operating indefinitely. I never wanted to close. It was just the reality of the situation. I was having my moment trying to figure out what I was going to do with myself but this has shown me that I need to be serving this food. After those first few days extending, I quickly knew that whether it would be here at Taco Vega in his location, or elsewhere, it was a sign that this was what I’m meant to be doing. I just need to grind through this and figure it out. It hasn’t been easy for myself on an emotional and physical level.
I’m deeply involved in endurance training. I’ve transitioned away from Iron Man but I still run ultra distance events. My coach said something interesting to me: that life never gets easier, but our capacity to take on more expands. I’m testing my capacity right now and until I come to a resolution I’ll be in this restaurant every single day. The staff is amazing. The product speaks for itself. I’ve never been a part of anything like this. The kitchen is open so people thank the staff and I don’t think they’ve ever been supported in such a heartfelt and encouraging way in their lives. It really is the feel good story everyone needs to hear right now.
My coach said something interesting to me: that life never gets easier, but our capacity to take on more expands. I’m testing my capacity right now and until I come to a resolution I’ll be in this restaurant every single day.
A lot of my once-a-weekers are now here two or three times a week. I know somebody who has ordered every single day somehow, some way. I’ve had people come from San Diego, Palm Springs, Bakersfield, and Salt Lake City. It’s been truly amazing and because I’m part of the endurance community and my personal following is there, I’ve had people reaching out from New York, Oregon, Utah, asking how they can support us when they can’t be here to buy food. A lot of people have purchased hats and shirts and electronic gift certificates for their local friends, or given me their number for gift cards to buy food for people in need. The homelessness issue in Los Angeles is apparent and there are plenty of unhoused people in our neighborhood. We try to take care of them, and it’s been nice to take care of more.
A lot of people don’t understand the economics of a restaurant and people will say that it must be because our rent is too high. But that’s not the issue. It’s just that we’re plagued with no parking in a high crime zone and I think that people think it’s not convenient to come here. But our guests have truly committed to us now. Every restaurant, and every small business, needs that kind of following.
I’ve been very transparent on my Instagram videos, and I think that connects to people. This isn’t some ploy to bring in more business. This truly was the reality, and just telling people and asking for help was humbling. So many people have stepped up and continue to share our story and food through Instagram. We’ve created our own marketing because everyone is resharing and reposting.
This has been the most wild three weeks of my life and I’ve had some wild experiences.