A tasty new taco shop, I Love Tacos, is expanding to the Highlands with its second location, and the co-owners believe opening both restaurants in the middle of the pandemic is actually making them stronger.
I Love Tacos is a simple concept, and it’s clicking with customers. Co-owners Ernesto Rivera and Alfredo Garcia wanted to focus on simple, good food with an authentic, local vibe.
“This taco trend is going like crazy. It’s booming!” Rivera said. “In the beginning, we started thinking about south Mexican tacos. So from Mexico City and all the way from Puebla, which is where I’m from, we want to bring all those flavors to Louisville.”
Rivera, a chef at heart, is no stranger to the foodie scene as he used to own Ernesto’s Mexican Restaurant. Then last year, one of his former employees approached him with the idea of launching a new restaurant together at 9909 Taylorsville Road in Jeffersontown.
They were prepared to open the self-serve taco shop in April, and then the coronavirus pandemic hit forcing restaurants to shut down for a time in Kentucky. They instantly started reworking the concept, ordering more tablets, building a patio and creating a user-friendly website.
Rivera said by opening a new restaurant under pandemic restrictions and guidelines, he believes his business is stronger.
“We actually started with online order. You can place orders through our website,” Rivera said. “Things that we never would’ve thought to help us before coronavirus. We did start really slow. I think the first day we did $400. The second day was $500. But by the end of the week, it just exploded.”
Within a couple weeks, Rivera was hiring more employees to handle the increased demand. Currently, Rivera’s sales are half to-go order and half dine-in.
“We had a lot of support from the local community, and it’s been a (blessing),” Rivera said.
Opening a new restaurant in the middle of a crisis is a tall order, but Rivera and Garcia are not stopping there. The old Panera Bread location at 1534 Bardstown Road is going to be the second I Love Tacos restaurant. Months after Panera Bread closed this summer, the owner of the property reached out to Rivera asking if he had any interest in becoming the new tenant.
“We looked at the area, and we looked at other businesses, and we saw a lot of potential here for what we offer,” Rivera said.
Whereas existing restaurants had to re-imagine how to function in a pandemic, Rivera said the Jeffersontown location serves as a successful template for opening the Bardstown Road spot. So the Highlands restaurant will have a similar menu and atmosphere, but it will also have a full bar. The maximum capacity is for 120 guests, but Rivera plans to open at 50% and with extra safety precautions.
Rivera intends to hire several employees in the month of November, with the intention of opening later that month or by early December.