This is The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
[Photo: Aubrie Pick]
In the beginning, Tacolicious was a small, taco-slinging tent at the Ferry Building Marketplace, which spiraled to out-of-control popularity. In 2009, when owner Joe Hargrave's unrelated Laiola restaurant wasn't yielding the results he wanted in the Marina, he made the difficult-yet-wise decision to turn Tacolicious into a full-blown restaurant at Laiola's address. Tacos, of course, remained a menu staple, and just about the only slow night since has been Christmas Eve. Now, with a second location in the Mission, waits remain consistently long at both branches, and Tacolicious director of events and marketing, Kory Cogdill, is usually the man keeping things copacetic at the Front of House. Eater recently sat down with him to get real about reality TV stars at the restaurant, and what it is like to cater for dogs.
7:30 p.m. on a Saturday night, what's the wait for a table? At either location, Chestnut or Valencia, you are looking at a good hour to hour and a half. The nice thing over here [at Valencia] is that we have Mosto, our Tequila bar, so people can head over there and have a drink while they wait for their table.
So that answers my next question about what I can do to make my wait shorter. Tequila [laughs]. There's a door connecting the Valencia Street location to Mosto. If you want to head over there, have a couple drinks while you wait, the hostess will come over and find you when your table is available.
What's the longest wait you've ever seen? It's not going to happen. There's some crazy weekends, like Fleet Week over in the Marina that it just gets to the point where we can't even take any more names.
So you just reject people? We don't reject anyone, but we let them know that if it's a certain point in the night and they're coming in with a party of 10, that we will do our best, but it may not happen. We try to keep them in the restaurant, obviously. Typically the longest that we see is two hours.
Do customers attempt to make negotiations in exchange for a table? People try to offer money sometimes. We don't accept money. One of our hostesses at the Chestnut Street location, she received a guy's phone number and two dollars. So I told her never to call that guy. He's probably not going to take her on a good date. But generally people are pretty good. San Franciscans seem to like to wait. People expect it. Tacolicious is a busy restaurant most nights of the week, so when you come you're going to expect to wait a little bit.
Who are some of your favorite customers? At both locations we have such a large group of regulars that we develop friends in the restaurant. I have new friends who I hang out with now outside of the restaurant. It's been great that way. It's an easy place for people to come in and enjoy a couple times a week. It's an affordable price point, so it encourages regulars which is great. Over here, I was reading David Lee's Gatekeeper article, and Adam Savage comes in here a lot too. And we've actually catered at his house a couple times.
Any other notable characters that people may recognize? We've had a couple people from the Real World [laughs]. There was this girl in the Marina location one time who was demanding that I seat her because she was on a reality show on Bravo, on like a dating show. I can't remember the name. It was a bachelorette type show and she said, 'Do you know who I am?' and I said, 'I don't. I'm sorry.' I told her she would have to wait like everyone else.
Do you do anything for when actual VIPS come in during a long wait? Generally not. We have some close friends of the restaurant that we will put on the list ahead of time. That's usually through a manager though. It's not just a regular customer. So we have a lot of close friends who, if they're coming from out of town, we will get them on the list and get them in as soon as possible. Generally we are pretty good about keeping our list as fair as we can.
What are some difference you notice between your two locations? The outfits. It seems to be the same customers, but in different costumes. A lot more tattoos on Valencia, a lot more high heels on Chestnut. We are pretty much running the same restaurant, but to a different clientele. We do a couple different dishes over here, because obviously there is more Mexican food over here so some of our dishes are a little more focused towards more Mexican cuisine. Like we have enchiladas on Chestnut, we don't have them on Valencia. On Chestnut we have a slushee, we don't on Valencia. Just a couple little differences. nothing major.
What is the most outrageous request you've received from a customer? It's not a request per se, but I am in charge of our catering and we serve a make your own taco bar. People always ask me if it comes with tortillas. I think that's very funny, because it's not a taco without a tortilla. And we also cater a dog's birthday. It's a dog costume party. We've done it three years now and we make Mexican dog biscuits for them.
What's in a Mexican dog biscuit? It's a dog biscuit shaped like a taco [laughs].
It's not extra spicy or anything? No. We don't throw chorizo in there or anything.
What are some of your favorite dishes on the menu? I really like our carnitas taco. And then every Thursday we change our taco of the week, and we've done some really great ones. We had a salmon one that was really delicious, and a few weeks ago we had a BLT taco that was great. I also really enjoy our skillet roasted mussels with lime butter and fresno chilies. And then every now and then I sneak in a couple choco tacos.
When you are not eating here, where do you like to go? I enjoy brunch. I tend to frequent Foreign Cinema and Nopa. I really enjoy the ambiance at Foreign Cinema, sitting outside under the roof. A glass of champagne and some orange juice is a good way to start my sunday morning. And I think they do a great job at Nopa with the food, and also the service.
At the end of the day, what's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to get your job done? I would say patience. Working the door at a busy restaurant like this I have to be very patient with people. There's a certain psychology about running a door for a busy restaurant like this, making people feel at ease and getting a drink in their hand as quick as possible.
· All Tacolicious Coverage [~ ESF ~]