El Taco Santo owners eye Chandler for expansion - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

El Taco Santo owners eye Chandler for expansion

August 20th, 2021 development
El Taco Santo owners eye Chandler for expansion

By Coty Dolores Miranda

This has been one busy summer for the founders and owners of El Taco Santo.

Not only did they open a new brick and mortar restaurant in Gilbert last month, but they continued to juggle the booming business at their original Ahwatukee location and rolling the byways with their food truck.

Now they have their eyes on opening a restaurant in Chandler.

Home of the “original Sonoran” style of cooking, the El Taco Food Truck is where this growing dynasty originated.

And it will remain a family-owned and run business, said Cesar Martinez, one of the two founders.

No matter in what new areas they launch new El Taco Santo restaurants – and there are two more currently in the works – they have chosen not to franchise, but to keep all in the family.

“Our goal is to keep Taco Santo as a family-owned business. We’re not looking to become a franchise but we are looking to open in different strategic locations,” said Martinez, ticking off possibilities of new El Taco Santo brick and mortar restaurants in Chandler and Avondale.

“The food truck is still running and will continue as we travel with it throughout the valley at various places and events. This is where we started, and we will never forget about that and about all the support from our family, and customers who become family.”

The shiny midnight blue food truck, now under the supervision of Gilbert resident Fabrizio Rivera, is a popular draw at festivals and events.

Its popularity and reputation grew after it regularly served Ahwatukee residents before becoming more widely-known throughout the East Valley.

The start of this Sonoran-style grilled taco empire began at a backyard barbeque when Martinez and his longtime friend and partner Adrian Felix were grilling steak and reminiscing about their childhood.

“We were in my backyard grilling and talking about meat. Adrian was in meat distribution and I was in catering for 15 years.  And we wondered why nobody grilled good meat for tacos,” he said.

“Sure there were tacos, but grilling the steak and pork our way was different so we said, ‘hey, why don’t we?’” recalled Martinez, who holds a degree in business administration.

“We thought about opening a restaurant, but it was just so expensive. And that’s when we went with a food truck.”

They launched their El Taco Santo Food Truck, specializing in prime grilled Sonoran-style tacos and homemade salsas on Nov. 13, 2016.

Three years later on Nov. 13, their El Taco Santo Restaurant opened at 4025 E. Chandler in Ahwatukee.

On July 17, their second brick and mortar El Taco Santo opened in Gilbert at 835 S. Gilbert Road, on the southeast corner of Gilbert and Warner.

This location, in what has become a town of gastronomes and the restaurants they love, has been slower getting off the ground, but they’re seeing uplifting signs that it’s catching on.

“Our Gilbert location is going well, little by little we are making customers and fans, and we can see that in the three weeks we’ve been open, people are coming back for more, which is always a good sign,” said Martinez.

His partner, Adrian Felix, has been with him since the beginning and remained through the grueling pandemic year when even opening for business was an on-again, off-again proposition.

A longtime Ahwatukee resident, Felix remembers how difficult the early days of the pandemic transformed even simple matters like obtaining supplies into huge hurdles.

“It was a big challenge and scary to keep doing business with COVID,” said Felix, who holds a degree in accounting. “We were thinking how are we going to survive. We decided to do deliveries and incorporate family packages, whatever it took to stay in business.”

Felix, who shares partnership with Martinez and Hurtado Clark, said all their endeavors are still feeling the effects of the pandemic but they are pressing on.

“We now have Johnny Byrd on the team in Ahwatukee; he’s a veteran, local resident who has been a big fan of Taco Santo since day one,” said Martinez. “He’s just like a member of the family.”

Byrd, who has been at the helm in Ahwatukee for six months, admits that summer temps notwithstanding, this has been a busy season. A Navy veteran, he served as a Spanish linguist for nine years.

Even the Avondale location, which is set to open shortly, and the Chandler El Taco Santo slated for 2022, will be in charge of close friends of Martinez and Felix.

“We’re opening in Avondale with a friend that lives there, and we’re trying to ensure we have somebody that cares, that we know, and that is from the areas where we’re opening,” explained Martinez. “El Taco Santo is not a franchise, we want to offer the same quality in each place. And these people are actively participating in the stores they manage.”

The new restaurants, now offering beer and tequila, are proving to be more sit-down, stay-awhile eateries. Though Ahwatukee has only beer and margaritas, the newer Gilbert El Taco Santo augments their beer selection with 20 different brands of tequila.

There’s a fine selection of nonalcoholic beverages including fresh agua de jamaica (hibiscus tea), horchata (a rice drink flavored with cinnamon and sugar), fresh lemonade and the all-time favorite, Mexican Coke. Other soft drinks are also available.

The partners, all of whom hold B.A. degrees in business or accounting, are visionaries with some big plans.

“Our goal is to have a total of six taco shops and two food trucks,” said Martinez. “We’re adding one more food truck this year.”

Each partner offers words of thanks to the communities in which they operate.

“We’re very fortunate to have a lot of support from our constant clients, who in turn, have brought us new clients”, said Martinez. “Thanks to God and all the community support, we keep moving forward.”

“Thanks to so many wonderful people, our team, our families, people who organize and invite us to their communities with the food truck, people who call us to see how we are doing, to all of our customers who support us week after week, we were able to survive during these times of pandemic,” added Felix.

The El Taco Santo Food Truck, serving their loaded carne asada tacos and carnitas, el pastor burritos and more, will be at the Gilbert Feastival Aug. 20 5:30-9 p.m. and the Queen Creek Feastival Aug. 27 the same hours. Tacos, made with carne asada, pork carnitas or barbacoa start at $3 each.

Information:  ElTacoSanto.com.