#FoodFriday

Part 5 in an Indefinite Anthology

Today’s Trending Topic: Taco Del Mar

Primer

As established in my previous post, I am a proud pescetarian. Since I cannot consume your “traditional” taco, I like to indulge in tacos using a meat base consisting of some soy derivative or fish. The latter, in fact, is one of my favorite meals; I look forward to Taco Tuesdays with zeal.

Therefore, Seattle-based restaurant Taco Del Mar— a name translated into Ingles as “Taco of the Sea”— whose “original specialty [is] fish tacos” is an establishment I could see myself patronizing. But wait— is that truly their specialty? The article’s first sentence in the lead section states: “Taco del Mar is a Seattle Washington-based Fresh Mex fast casual restaurant chain that specializes in Mission burritos.” So, do they mainly do tacos or burritos? Make up your myeyeind!

Imperatively, what’s a Mission burrito anyway? According to Wikipedia, there are three clearly delineated types of burritos, all of which are placed in the grander empirical taxonomy of “burritoae faliva.” The “simple” burrito “consisting of beans, rice, and meat” is the original species; the California burrito, discovered between 1980-1989 CE, “contains cheese and potatoes”; and the finding of the Mission burrito occurred in the middle of this chronology, between 1960-1969 CE. Although a wholly untenable position, I have as much misplaced faith in the notion that the Mission burrito’s etymology finds its derivation in Mormons eating them for sustenance while walking door to door on a frigid day as The BasedGod has in believing the Earth is flat.

(The true etymology of the Mission burrito apparently comes from the fact that the burrito first became popular in the Mission District of San Francisco. Fun fact: Mission San Francisco de Asis, which is San Francisco’s oldest standing building, is located in the Mission District. Another fun fact: Lil Tuffy, the producer of “hand-screened posters for such bands as the Black Lips and Pavement”, is a proud resident of the Mormon Missionary Zone. Sometimes, it’s just a little toughy for those devious Mormon missionaries to continue walking with the purpose of pontificating upon the teachings of some random guy named Joseph Smith after guiltily gorging on an erotically-shaped, eight-inch, double-wrapped Chipotle burrito.)

Mission burritos differ from their close cousins in that they’re generally bigger and hold more ingredients than a traditional burrito, two qualities that go hand-in-hand. (The tortilla in a Mission burrito is typically steamed to increase its elasticity.) Although Chipotle has made this burrito mainstream, they are not its progenitors; in fact, Chipotle was created by some white guy named Steve Ells in Colorado. The burrito has apparently “spread widely throughout the United States and Canada.”

Nevertheless, Taco Del Mar “is known for its relaxed, seaside-themed decor” and has 260 locations. As for the former point, I wonder if this means relaxed in the apathetic vein of addicts, or simply laid-back and casual. I’d assume the latter. As for its locations, this naturally got me thinking: can I visit this restaurant of the sea conveniently? Without Wikipedia’s direct guidance— although it did provide me with the restaurant’s official site domain— I would have to find out myself. Let’s take this dive together.

So, on the “Locations” tab, I typed in Los Angeles. (No, you’re not getting my zip code, internet. I’m sorry.) I unfortunately discover that my closest neighborhood location is located in Boise, Idaho, a mere— and precise— 793.76 miles away.

Restaurant Location Finder

The natural question is from which part of L.A. this is being measured— a more reasonable distance, like 786.453636473901 miles, would be a compromise I’d likely be willing to make.

However, I do notice on the Google-provided map, there are locations in Oregon. This is of importance as I plan to travel to Portland very soon. Going onto the second page of results, I find that Portland has three Taco Del Mars, which are a nice gift from their similarly-precipitable neighbors up north. If I do indeed visit Taco Del Mar, I will be sure to provide an update in some fashion.

Wikipedia makes no mention of specific menu options and prices. Taco Del Mar clearly provides their food options under their website’s “Menu” section, but egregiously forget to provide any disclosure of price. Anyway, it would appear as if I could consume Taco Del Mar’s “Alaskan white fish” or ambiguously named “vegan/vegetarian” options without compromising my self-imposed dietary restrictions.

Mexican Restaurant Menu

Unfortunately, no prices are visible anywhere on the site, which is likely because they don’t want their immaculately-depicted food— standard in appearance for most establishments— to appear as if it’s compromised in quality by prices that hover around, but rarely exceed, the range of a dirty rectangle of paper emblazoned with Lincoln’s face.

And it would appear as if I’m right. Eat24 informs me that the default “rice, beans, meat, cheese, and pico de gallo” encased in a tortilla is a mere two quarters over that threshold. A veggie burrito, meanwhile, is sub-$5 at $4.29. Perhaps most confusingly, what I term the “default” burrito, seems to have an identical twin— with the same exact ingredients— called the “Mondito” for $4.29.

Weird Menu Pricing

I almost feel like mailing a handwritten letter to Taco Del Mar themselves to help clarify this perplexing, almost existential matter. Price dissonance is that serious.

Back to the actual Wikipedia page, I quickly learn that the establishment was created by business partners of a fraternal relation, James and John Schmidt, in June of 1992. It is no longer owned by the Schmidt brothers; it’s now a wholly owned subsidiary of Franchise Brands LLC, which oddly enough has no Wikipedia page. (Usually, owners who lay claim to any property— whether a businessbookalbum, or general creative piece— will have their own page, if for no other reason than that they are almost always bigger.)

For reasons completely unbeknownst to me, the article’s lead section compares “the [customer’s] preparation of his or her meal, requesting ingredients as it moves along an assembly line” to Subway’s approach, rather than the obvious choice of Chipotle— or even Qdoba. I would correct this lead section on my own, but unfortunately, it is incapable of being modified by those of our ilk.

Something that does ring more of a similarity to Subway are the vast amount of choices in terms of tortilla options, including the commonplace wheat and flour, but also the more healthful options of tomato and spinach. (To clarify, I would draw the parallel in terms of how Subway has a variety of— now yoga mat material-free— breads from which to choose.)

Legal Woes

Like every successful business, Taco Del Mar has had its share of growing pains. Perhaps the most serious indictment against the Taco of the Sea came in 2008, a year after they had reported that over 30 franchisees had shut their operations. Poor sales and location placement were cited as the reasons for the closures.

Franchisees, however, held a different narrative; forming a coalition named The Truth About Taco del Mar (or TTATDM, which I have to assume was poorly organized, as their internet presence is feeble and scattered), they “charged that several Taco del Mar executives took secret kickbacks from various suppliers that raised restaurant operating costs, hurting franchisee profitability and contributing to the store closures.” There is apparently no incriminating evidence, and James Schmidt’s retort to such claims is shared on the Wiki article:

There has not been one credible example of kickbacks ever brought to the attention of an attorney, posted here or any one else, that has come to my attention. If we were getting kickbacks and it was proven then franchisees would get money back, we disclose we do not get kickback so if we took them, then prove it and money will be returned

Honestly, parts of this response look like they were translated from Chinese via Google Translate, a quality whose presence always causes me to doubt the veracity of statements. Nevertheless, disregarding a paucity of good grammar, I do wonder what the exact, quantifiable claims of the franchisees entail.

TTATDM also claimed that their constituent franchisees were removed from Franchise Disclosure Documents, which misled future franchisees. A Franchise Times story in December 2007 that is no longer online— yet still used as a citation— purportedly found that most Taco Del Mars outside of the Pacific Northwest (or more specifically, Washington and Oregon), were in the red.

class action involving more than 20 franchisees apparently took place, but Wikipedia makes no mention of any outcome. Influential individuals within Taco Del Mar’s franchising divisions resigned in late 2007.

microcosm of the failure of this page can ironically be found in a paragraph whose first word is “failure”:

Failure rates of restaurants is commonly thought to be high. Recent studies have mitigated some of those assumptions, but still show three-year failure rates of all restaurants to be about 61.4%, and that franchise restaurants fare slightly better than independently owned locations.

There are no citations, grammatical errors (“failure rates of restaurants is”), no specific mention of study names or when they were conducted, and most importantly, it seems flagrantly out of place. It simply reads like a high schooler wrote it. Furthermore, It’s nice to know the success/failure rates of restaurants, but such statistics are especially meaningless when we don’t have direct statistics of the failure rate percentage of Taco Del Mar franchisees.

The Explosion

There was both a literal and figurative explosion around the turn of the decade for Taco Del Mar; let’s start both chronologically and with the more exciting explosion.

In 2008, a Taco del Mar franchise located in VancouverD.C. BC was demolished in an intentional explosion caused by an arsonist. (See, Canada does have violence. Don’t always ever believe the media.) Said arsonist placed an accelerant within the restaurant— the term accelerant “is used very broadly to include any substance or mixture that ‘accelerates’ the development of fire to commit arson”— and then lit it up.

We learn that:

Vancouver-area police later arrested Kamal Jeet Singh Josan, suffering from burns to over 40% of his body. The motive for this act is currently not publicly known. In April 2009, charges against Josan were stayed due to lack of evidence. Prosecutors took up the file again in January 2010, and Josan plead guilty to one charge of arson on March 14, 2011. Josan was sentenced to two years of house arrest on June 13, 2011.

House arrest sucks, but I’m still surprised no prison time was given. I’m sure the U.S. would’ve given at least the equivalent time in prison. (For liberals, this places the hypothetically blank scorecard at: Canada 1, United States 0. For conservatives: United States 1, Canada 0.)

The figurative explosion was more damaging— much more damaging. In January of 2010, Taco Del Mar filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Creditors included a franchisee in Maryland (with a disputed claim for half a million dollars); a mysterious, presumed couple “Paul & Shahnaz Hendifar, with a $125,416 judgment entered in Texas”; the Canada Revenue Agency, with a tax claim containing all of the whole numbers in between zero and five ($105,324); and Seattle proper, with a $95,289 tax claim.

In its September 2010 bankruptcy auction, the winning bid for Taco del Mar came from the previously-mentioned, Connecticut-based Franchise Brands LLC. The article’s last paragraph, yet another of a misplaced variety, begins to shed light on why Taco del Mar’s cafeteria-esque meal preparation was compared with that of Subway:

Franchise Brands was created in 2005 by Fred De Luca and Peter Buck, the founders of Subway restaurants. Both Subway and Franchise Brands LLC are based in Milford, Conn.

Like father, like son. I wonder if Jared Fogle, now a Subway castaway, could lose weight on a fish taco and burrito-eating mission?

Conclusion

If nothing else, I learned that sombrero and sunglasswearing, 80s porn mustache-donning, plump-lipped turquoise fish can block out the sun. Not its harmful rays, but still…

Taco Del Mar Logo

Quote of the Day:

“Despite the fact that I’m bigger and better than you— my son is the biggest star celebrity ever— I like to stay humble.”— The Sun God

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