Emerging Concepts | May 2015 | By Daniel P. Smith

Standout Store: Mondo Taco

The Santa Monica, California, restaurant is on a mission to redefine the taco experience.
Los Angeles quick service brand serves premium tacos with innovative flavors.
Mondo Taco

Amid thousands of Los Angeles–area taco shops sits Mondo Taco, a three-year-old eatery dishing up 34 eclectic tacos and a mission to redefine the taco experience.

Starting with homemade tortillas, the 1,250-square-foot outlet in Santa Monica features a menu cleverly divided into three categories: Crawls (chicken, pork, and meat), Swims (seafood), and Grows (vegetables). The tacos have similarly creative names, like the Yo Adrian and the Hawaii 5-OH!

Mondo Taco founder Sam Spector, a 35-year veteran of the hospitality industry, discusses his concept’s origins and its future.

What inspired Mondo Taco’s creation?

I don’t believe you build a restaurant for yourself, but rather you build it for the perceived market. In creating Mondo Taco, I embraced what I felt was a universal concept neither exclusive nor intimidating, and that’s the taco shop.

Then it was about differentiating the concept, and I subscribe to the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup theory of combining great things in one bite. Our tacos aren’t “inside the box,” but they’re still in the comfort zone.

You moved within two years of your launch. Why?

Our first storefront was a hole-in-the-wall proof of concept in Mid-City L.A. It was 493 square feet and intentionally off the radar. The whole point was to discover the market, to trial and tweak recipes, and to do it on my own dime so I’d have control.

Within a year, it was clear we needed more space, especially when the catering requests started coming in from the large Hollywood studios. Plus, I wanted to expand the menu and we needed a more accessible location. Some investors came along, and that allowed the move to Santa Monica. It was kind of like graduating high school and going on to college.

Is the ubiquity of taco shops in L.A. more a challenge or opportunity?

You don’t open a taco shop in a sea of taco shops unless you’re up for the challenge. With our combinations, flavor profiles, and textures, we’re creating a new taco culture and offering a unique alternative. In that respect, it’s all opportunity.

What’s next for Mondo Taco?

We’re doing four times the volume [in Santa Monica] compared to our original location in Mid-City, but I want to make this location hum before lining up that next step. If you build a great restaurant, I believe opportunities will present themselves organically.

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