Streetside tacos are a thing of the past for Kansas City-stuffed Taco Tank, but a brick-and-mortar expansion into Parlor’s Crossroads food hall means the potential of its authentic, Mexican street food is just hitting the grill, Roman Raya said.
“We were sharing a kitchen before with four other food trucks as our commissary. It was very limited space, everybody was on top of each other,” recalled Raya, owner and chef, quick to note that while the experience was hectic, there was nothing quite like it or its collaborative potential.
The tradeoff of moving inside as winter approaches, however, is expected to be more than worth it, he said.
“Here we’re able to really focus on ourselves and on our food. … Having our own kitchen, we’ve been able to do Taco Tuesday specials. We’re going to start having specials on Sundays. Those are the things I get really excited about.”
Opened in September at Parlor, Taco Tank is already drawing the eye of hungry customers who hadn’t previously been aware of its carnitas and fajitas bellas tacos and esquites (Mexican street corn) — or its status as one of Kansas City’s leading food vendors among the brewery and festival scene, added Madeline Buechter, managing partner.
Click here to view Taco Tank’s full menu or to find out more about its origins.
Built by Roman Raya’s own hands in 2017, Taco Tank’s food trailer has since been given to another rising vendor, Happy Tummy.
“People really loved the tank and it’s kind of an attention grabber,” Raya said, revealing its plywood, rivet and aluminum sheeting construction inspired the Taco Tank name and the military feel of its branding.
Raya originally planned to launch a trailer focused on tortas, before realizing the Mexican-style sandwich wasn’t as convenient for an on-the-go vendor.
“I was like, ‘You know what, let’s do tacos. Let’s come up with some neat ideas for something different that people haven’t had before.’ Starting with the traditional ideas and then kind of morphing that into something more, I would say, modern and jazz it up a little bit.”
Current offerings on the Taco Tank menu include: carne asada, fajitas bellas, adobo chicken and carnitas tacos in addition to new menu items such as carne asada fries and standards like chips and salsa or chips and queso.
“When Roman [got us weekday partnerships with] breweries we really built a nice following of really sweet people,” she said, recalling such support was especially welcome in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Not only were they there every Friday, but they would bring their parents or bring their friends from out of town. We got a nice group of people that have supported us really hard for the last year — and we’re seeing them transition with us,” Buechter added.
“We’ve had customers that were our regulars at some of the breweries — that live 20 or 30 minutes out — come down to visit us [in the Crossroads], which is really cool.”
One of the most notable contributions to Taco Tank’s success: its focus on providing customer service in ways not often seen by street vendors, the duo said.
“Because we were a trailer and we weren’t in a truck, we had a lot of on-ground foot traffic. We would run our food to our guests instead of [like most trucks do] yelling out a number,” Buechter said.
“We had that personality [of personalizing our service] that a lot of food trucks don’t have.”
Such a commitment to interacting with customers remains within the new incarnation of Taco Tank, she continued, explaining that she and Raya have made the decision to hold ready-to-serve orders in the kitchen for pickup instead of placing them on the counter where a customer can pick them up without talking to anyone — a common practice within Parlor and its ordering system, which texts customers when their food is ready for pickup.
“We made an intentional decision … so we can personally still hand you your food. It’s not as personable as we’re used to, but it’s what we have figured out we can do to still try to keep that connection with the guests,” Buechter explained.
“Not only are we happy that you’re ordering our food, but we really want you to like it and we want you to see that.”
Further proof of its popularity, the opportunity to open a stall within Parlor came only a few months after Raya left a career in banking to pursue Taco Tank full time.
“I just want you to be proud of that,” Buechter told Raya as the pair reflected on their journey to grow the business and looked forward to opportunities on the menu before them.
“We’re very thankful to [be in] this position and looking forward to using it to kind of catapult us,” Raya said, adding he’d like to see Taco Tank among Parlor’s lineup for as long as possible — but not ruling out the potential of opening a standalone store somewhere in the metro down the line.
“We have a lot of ideas. … We just need to utilize this time to make sure that we put that in perspective.”
Click here to follow Taco Tank on Facebook, here to follow the restaurant on Instagram, here to connect with Raya or here to connect with Buechter.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.
For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect at www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn