Landmark taco shop in Chandler reopens SanTan Sun News

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Landmark taco shop in Chandler reopens

Landmark taco shop in Chandler reopens
Business
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By Jaimee Resnick
Contributor

Elmer’s Tacos, a family-owned restaurant in Chandler, was so ready to be back in business.

After closing for several weeks in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the landmark Mexican eatery’s owner decided to get back in action.

“It’s been a long few weeks but we are clean, prepped and ready to open back up,” owner Lisa Cuen announced on social media last week.

“We appreciate the continued well wishes and support we have gotten,” the message said. “We have missed you all tremendously and are so ready to be back in action.”

She told the Santan Sun News that while “tt was nice to be at home safe with our families,” she and her family “need to survive personally and as a business.”

“This is more than just surging for a month or so. We have a bigger picture to look at: survive for years to come so our kids have a successful business to inherit one day. We are taking extra precautions with our high-risk family members and limiting our contact with them. But at the end of the day, you need to eat and you need to let the city eat the food tthey love, too.”

Located at 355 N. Arizona Ave., Elmer’s is providing drive-through service as well as third-party deliveries – but there’s a small catch: orders need to be placed in advance by calling 480-963-6763.

Limiting some menu items and not taking on-site orders “will help us to minimize the traffic and gathering of crowds,” the announcement said.

For a while, Elmer’s Tacos was among 46 percent of the 551 local businesses polled by the Chandler Chamber of Commerce that indicated they planned to temporarily close in response to social-distancing regulations or closure orders by the governor.

A number of Chandler restaurants are struggling to survive by offering takeout and/or delivery.

For example, before the closure orders were issued, DC Steakhouse owners Dean and Lorie Laplant were preparing to move about a block from their old location into the newly opened New Square complex across from City Hall.

They’re there – but patrons can only pick up food after ordering at dc-steakhouse.com.

Elmer’s Tacos was opened in 1974 by the late Elmer Cuen about a block away from its current location.

As the town grew, so did his business so he moved the restaurant in 1985.

Cuen incorporated his own cooking style, his mother’s recipes and some flavors from Los Angeles into his cooking.

The restaurant is now owned and managed by his daughter Lisa Cuen and her son Tyler Cuen. They work alongside her husband and their 12 employees.

Cuen said her father was always involved with the restaurant until he passed away in 2015.

Initially late last month, she decided that it would be best for Elmer’s Tacos to close temporarily for the safety of customers and her employees.

“There was a lot going on before the governor actually stated anything. We saw that everyone in Phoenix was going to take out and I knew that it was going to affect us very soon,” said Cuen. “We decided to kind of take action before it officially got to us because I knew it was something we were going to have to get used to.”

Cuen said her first drive-thru system was a success for a while.

But things shortly changed.

“Unfortunately, we have quite a few people in our immediate families…that are super high risk. We have some with cancer and we have some that are on dialysis,” said Cuen.

“Because of that, we did choose to close because at some point, it’s about everyone’s health and everybody’s family more than it is about money.”

Cuen said they did what they could to support their employees and supplied them with food and supplies.

“We would love to be able to be open, and to keep everyone’s income the same, but some things are more important at this time,” said Cuen.

According to Cuen, customers were supportive all the way up until their last day, April 1.

“We have a great community and we are so grateful that we have such a good support system,” said Cuen.

“We did announce that we were closing that morning and that it was going to be the last day, so we had a line a good half an hour before we even opened the drive-thru,” said Cuen. “It was more than we ever could have hoped for.”

Cuen said they sold out of “absolutely everything” they had that day and that customers were grateful to order whatever was left.

“It shows that we still have something that they love and appreciate as they did when my dad was around and that means the world to me because I don’t ever want anything that we do to affect us negatively. I want it to stay the same, I want the feeling to be the same, the food to be the same. I don’t ever want to change anything,” she said.

Cuen said the relationship with the customers is her favorite part about being at the restaurant.

She said that customers are “always supportive, encouraging and show us all so much love.”

“Everyone has a story and memory to share of my dad and they come to share them with me or they come in and see someone they know and share stories with each other,” said Cuen.

Cuen said that if her father were still here, “he would have been completely blown away by the support.”

Yvonne Shaw, a longtime patron of Elmer’s Tacos, has been eating there since the early 90s, when her family moved from Phoenix to Chandler.

Shaw was there on the day Elmer’s Tacos shut down temporarily. She said she noticed that customers were patient with the employees and she didn’t see any angry faces.

“The line was long but not long enough to make us turn away, especially knowing we wouldn’t be able to come back for at least two weeks,” said Shaw.

Shaw said the employees never showed any signs of being overwhelmed and “there were some crying spells, but it was out of sheer amazement at the support they were getting from the community.”

“We have to remember that these small local businesses don’t have all the luxuries and funding that chain restaurants might. We take for granted that they’ll always be there, but we don’t know the overhead they have and sacrifices they make to still be a presence in the community,” said Shaw.

Cecilia “Cece” Martinez, has worked on and off at Elmer’s Tacos for many years.

Martinez said she worked with Elmer for about 28 years and her job has been to mainly help customers at the front of the restaurant.

Martinez was working at Elmer’s Tacos on April 1. She was inside, packing up the orders for the food runners to bring out to the customers.

“It was busy, let me tell you,” said Martinez. “Elmer was loved by a lot of the community. He would have loved to see it.”

Cuen said that customers can keep up with updates on their Facebook page (Elmer’s Tacos) or on their website at Elmerstacos.com for more information.

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