In this installment, we chat with Joe Lin, a co-owner of El Barrio Neighborhood Tacos in Redondo Beach, California. He shares how his new restaurant venture has adapted to changing circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clover: Let’s start at the beginning. Can you share the origin story of El Barrio Neighborhood Tacos?
Joe Lin: There’s three of us: two owners and one managing partner. The origin story is a little bit different for each of us, but for me this started a passion project. I’ve always dreamed of owning a restaurant; I have a passion for food and do a lot of cooking at home. I grew up in a restaurant environment as a kid, and my parents were involved in the restaurant business, too.
I’ve known my business partner Jesse since middle school. He’s now been in the restaurant game for a while. A while back, he mentioned that he had someone in mind (our managing partner) who wanted to open up a new venture and asked if I’d be interested in coming along for the ride. So here I am.
Clover: What’s the inspiration for the cuisine you serve?
Lin: For whatever reason, having all grown up around this area, we’ve found that the Mexican food scene around here [always] felt one dimensional. There’s a lot of influence from Tex-Mex in particular. But we wanted to create something that’s a change of pace from a Mexican food perspective, a bit more fresh and more modern to spice things up a little bit.
With the food itself, we wanted to create better, more conscientious Mexican food with exceptional flavors. We knew we wanted to create something that would fit the neighborhood, hence “El Barrio,” which means “neighborhood” in Spanish. I think people want to eat well both from a taste and a health perspective. So we focus our menu to feature better proteins: we use all-natural proteins, and we get organics or non-GMO whenever possible. We were making our tortillas in-house prior to the coronavirus—we usually use an all natural non GMO masa from Oaxaca. Right now, we’ve switched to sourced tortillas temporarily to maximize safety.
Most of our recipes and techniques are family recipes from Ulises (our managing partner and chef). His family has a slew of restaurants all across Mexico.
Clover: Why did you choose Clover as your POS system?
Lin: I think it was just the ease of setup and the cost.
Clover: Those are great reasons! We know you’re a new business, having just opened your doors six months ago. How are you adapting to this very sudden shift to take-out and delivery only?
Lin: We actually closed our dine-in option the weekend before they announced closures of restaurants and bars. We were watching everything closely and had the feeling that things were going to get messier before they got better. So, we took some early precautions.
We decided to go completely touchless and set up online ordering. Now we don’t take any sort of cash transactions. We don’t even handle cards anymore. I think we probably shut down card handling within the first week of closing dine-in.
We try to protect our staff by not allowing people to come into our space. All of the food we set on a table that is blocking the entryway of our restaurant. We write people’s names on their corresponding bags, and they just grab and go.
Clover: Do you use any apps to help with order management?
Lin: We use Postmates®, Doordash®, and Uber Eats® to manage our delivery orders. We had to get a little creative with our family meal packs. Because we can only offer a limited quantity, we ended up using Acuity Scheduling, which I think is designed for salons. It’s an appointment scheduling app, but it allows us to post how many meal packs are available for a given day and let customers reserve them in advance. It seems a little strange, but it’s been very effective.
Clover: How else have you been connecting with your community during the COVID-19 crisis?
Lin: We were running a promotion where for every family meal that we sold, we donated a meal to a front line worker nearby. And we ended up donating over 130 meals in the first week of the shutdown.
We’ve also been involved with one of the LA Galaxy players here. He’s been working with us to help donate meals to the fire department, the police department, and some of the local clinics and hospitals as well. Every meal that he purchases we match.
Very recently we got involved with World Central Kitchen. They’re an organization to help feed those in need during disaster relief. They set up shop and partner with local restaurants to make food available for anyone who needs a meal.
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