Regulars keep Taco Loco owner busy
By MARK MOREY
Malena Espinosa knows how to make Mexican food worth buying time and time again. And she likes people.
Between the two traits, she has built Taco Loco, the storefront restaurant on a downtown stretch of Yakima Avenue, into a lunchtime attraction with a crowd of regulars.
Espinosa, 52, started at the business as an employee. Within a year, the owner offered her the opportunity to take over, which she did in 2002.
“I love cooking, working with the people,” she said.
In the 1990s, Espinosa wanted to start a tortilla-making business, but the machinery turned out to be too big for the Tieton Drive location she had available. She ran a restaurant there for a few years and later went to work for the state, supervising foster care visits.
When her hours were cut, she needed something else. That’s when the Taco Loco job became available, developing into the opportunity to own the business.
“It was just a risk I had to take,” she said.
The business is open for lunch only, between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Espinosa starts cooking about 7:30 a.m., then runs the front counter as her single assistant prepares the plates in the back. Espinosa won’t leave until about 4 p.m.
During the lunch rush, she knows many of her customers by name and will put in their orders as they come through the door. They sometimes threaten to order something different just to confuse this time-tested system. She jokes right back: “You’re not at Burger King — you’re at Taco Loco. You get it my way.”
As with many businesses, the economy has taken a toll. Two years ago, Espinosa had to lay off a third employee.
She’s considered expanding into a neighboring space — which would allow her to enlarge the cramped kitchen and offer more menu items — but decided not to take the risk.
She’s used to working five days a week and doing her own bookkeeping. “When I get a three-day weekend, it seems long. I want to be here,” she said.
But the single mother also takes time for her 19-year-old son. She said she is encouraging him to finish high school through an online program even though she dropped out of Davis High School to start working.
That allowed her younger siblings to stay in school, she said.
The family traveled between Texas and Washington for field work before settling in the Yakima Valley in the 1970s.
Espinosa said she has been lucky to run her own business. “You have to like what you’re doing,” she says.
|Owner: Malena Espinosa
Product or service: Mexican food
Location: 19 W. Yakima Ave., Yakima
Length of ownership: Under current ownership since 2002
Number of employees: 2
Average number of hours worked by owner each week: 40-plus