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Despite glitches, La Familia Tapatia restaurant is an instant hit

Posted on 06 February 2018 by Calvin

It’s just past noon when customers begin to line up at the counter at La Familia Tapatia, a new take-out Mexican restaurant at 1237 Larpenteur Ave. Opened the week after Thanksgiving, the place is already popular even though, in early February, there is still no signage of any kind on the nondescript building. A sign with the restaurant’s name was to be installed at the end of January, but it arrived with a typo and had to be sent back.

Photo right: Inside La Famila Tapatia, 1237 Larpenteur Ave. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

Abe Ponce-Delgadillo, the manager and eldest son in this family-run business, said he is expecting a banner installed over the front door, very soon. “When we get signs,” he said, “we’ll be flooded.”

The Ponce family had been running a taco truck, also La Familia Tapatia, for four years, setting up at the Sun Ray Shopping Center and at breweries. It had a loyal following, mostly from the Mexican community.

He said that the family was expecting a slow start at the brick-and-mortar restaurant when they first opened, thinking they’d have a few curious people wandering in at lunch and dinner. But, the word had already spread on social networks, especially the local Nextdoor pages, and they found themselves facing crowds of hungry fans from the first day.

Photo left: Customers line up for Mexican take-out. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

“We got sold out of some things, and there was a line out the door. That’s when we decided that we were going to put our main energy into the store and not just the food truck,” said Abe.

They found themselves shorthanded, as well. “We called up friends and family who had any experience in restaurants and asked them if they wanted some part-time work,” he said.

The head chef is Abe’s mother Martha Ponce, who said she always had a passion for food. “I love to eat and love trying new foods,” she said, and she fussed over preparing the lengua and tripa (cow tongue and tripe) for the next day’s menu.

Martha, her brother and her husband (now her ex), were using Martha’s recipes, inspired by the traditional foods from the Guadalajara region of Mexico. But, sometimes in business and with families, things don’t always go smoothly. The food truck, said Abe, was “stolen.”

Photo right: Erensto Ponce cooks for the lunch crowd. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

“The thief wasn’t a criminal, but my mom’s ex-husband and brother,” Abe said. The truck’s title was in the brother’s name.

“Technically, he owns it,” he said. “We didn’t have anything between us in writing. It was a word-of-honor thing. He has leverage on it. We don’t even know where it is. It’s frustrating.”

“The truck was an old 1977 Wanabox food truck, in rough shape, but we needed it. It was our main income source. With it gone, we needed another truck, and it’s hard in this economy to find money for small startups,” he said.

But, they were lucky, finding an angel investor in Craig Ramsey, Abe’s fiancé’s business partner, who lent them money to purchase a new truck.

The family also decided that they needed a full kitchen to prepare the more complicated dishes they’d sell out of the new truck. They started thinking of a brick and mortar solution.

The meats like the tongue and tripe need to boil for five or six hours before they are ready to chop, spice, cook, and stuff into tacos, burritos, and quesadillas that customers will be ordering, Martha explained.

“The intestines,” she said, “need to be cleaned and cooked, and although I order 30 lb. of the meat, I end up with eight after cleaning and cooking,” she said. “The tongue needs to boil for four hours then cooked and peeled and chopped.”

She says she was surprised at the popularity of some of the more unusual meats among her non-Latin American patrons. “People are very open to ordering exotic meats,” she said. “It’s not just the Mexicans who are ordering these. They’re popular enough that sometimes we run out.”

Abe said that they looked at some locations but stumbled upon an ad on a business site saying, ‘Kitchen for sale.’ The space, on Larpenteur Ave., was perfect.

“Currently, both the kitchen and the food truck aid each other. The kitchen depends on the food truck, and the food truck depends on the kitchen, to repay the loan and pay the bills,” he said.

Customer Forrest Kelley came to pick up lunch, the second visit for him. Like many in the area, he originally heard about it on the social media platform, Nextdoor. Kelley lives and works in the neighborhood, he said, and today, he’s brought along a couple of co-workers who are eager to try some of the shop’s specialties. Kelley, who ordered a variety of tacos, is already a fan. “The food is great,” he said. “They use quality ingredients,” he said. “And they have this really good sauce used on the tortillas. It’s not spicy. It’s kind of smoky and rich. It’s hard to describe, but I almost want to drink it.”

Adam hopes that La Familia Tapatia faces a bright future. Right now, they’ll have to jump through some legal hoops and city regulations before they know how much seating they can add. He also sees a possible expansion in the future. He said he wants the restaurant to have a casual atmosphere, almost like ordering from a food truck. “Except, it’s inside,” he said looking out the shop’s windows on a new coating of snow.

Right now, the restaurant is strictly take-out, although there is some seating for those who are waiting for their orders.

“We’d like to add a couple of bistro tables and chairs outside when spring comes around. We also would like to open earlier, offering a Mexican breakfast—scones, conchas, orejas (Mexican puff pastries), hot and iced coffee, and blended drinks.

For now, however, he said, the family will concentrate on serving homemade and honest food, the best Mexican food in the East Metro. And, he hopes, the banner will be up soon.

“I’m grateful that everyone has been so supportive and patient with the transition from a food truck to a day-to-day brick and mortar. It’s a different set of challenges, but I believe we’ve got a great team behind me and my mom,” he said.

La Familia Tapatia, located at 1237 Larpenteur Ave. W. If the signs are not up, look for Gold Eagle Cleaners…it’s next door.

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