Barrio: Attracting Repeat Customers

by Amanda Lloyd & Rich Weiss

Tremonsters pack the front bar room of Barrio for Taco Tuesday.

Joe Kahn, owner of Barrio, Tremont’s taco, tequila, and whiskey restaurant, spoke to us in Barrio’s bar room—with light streaming in through the giant, wood-framed windows—about how his successful and growing business got its start.

“Tacos, tequila, and whiskey.  That’s how I planned it—I wanted people to come here two or three nights a week.  The tacos are so addictive so you can get them two or three times a week.”

Kahn was excited to talk about the next giant leap for Barrio…the food truck is coming.

“We do have it.  We bought the food truck in early August, and we’ll launch it in the beginning of September.  We are going to do all the festivals we can, obviously.  In the wintertime, when it gets a little jam-packed in here, we’ll have it parked in our parking lot and it will serve as a to-go window.  We’ll hit the usual downtown spots for lunch, and we’ll do a lot of catering.”

“The mobile restaurant takes our product and gets it out to people further away while it stays hot and delicious, and comes out the way it’s supposed to come out.”

When we asked Kahn how the idea came about, he said it was as simple as the rest of his story:  “I went out and tried a couple of food trucks, and I thought we could do things as good—if not better—than some of these people…there’s budget for it, and I see them everywhere.  Some of the food trucks are fantastic, some are not as fantastic.  Hodge Podge is definitely one of the top ones, and Dim and Dem Sum is definitely tops.  I think Touch does a pretty good job.”

“Tremonsters know us, but to anyone who has not tried us:  the tacos are fantastic.”

“You know, I wanted to do a reasonably-priced place that has addictive food, that you could come two or three times a week to for a great happy hour, great tacos, even late night service, because we’re serving until 2:00 a.m. every single day.”

Though all the high-quality restaurants are really great, there are so many people living in Tremont who can’t eat at all these places in the neighborhood every night.  “They’re not as affordable.  You have your Edison’s, in the meantime I know there’s another place [at a low price-point] opening up, so they should do well…I would say anything coming into this neighborhood, if it’s quality, it should do real well.”

“We opened May 5, 2012.  We’re open seven days, Friday and Saturday we’re doing…”

“We have our brunch coming pretty soon.  In early September we’ll be introducing a Sunday brunch.  It’s going to be fantastic.  I don’t want to say too much about it, but it’s going to feature the tacos.”

When we asked if he emulates any other brunches around town, Kahn said, “The Tap House does a good job—the brunch is solid.  It’s my favorite brunch in the city.  They just came out with a new menu that’s pretty decent, too.   They do a great job…A really good job.”

Kahn told us he can really see evidence of the restaurant’s success on Taco Tuesdays:  “On Taco Tuesday it’s pretty hopping in here.”  But there are other ways that show this restaurant is sticking, Kahn said, “We have our happy hour, and people love coming out.  We introduced our new weekly special taco—recently it was the Popcorn Crunch Taco:  popcorn shrimp, breaded, with sweet Thai chilly in a hard-shell taco with a summer slaw.  The special is new every week, and It’s build-your-own, so we have our specialty, like ‘The Stoner’ is a staple here:  a white enchilada with a soft shell, caso blanco, and chorizo, wrapped around a hard shell, and then you pick your protein.”

We interviewed a few customers at a recent Barrio Taco Tuesday happy hour, including Megan from the Warehouse District, who said, “I made the drive (she and her table laughed)—across the river!  I could have had fifty cent tacos at the Map Room (in the Warehouse District), but I made the drive to Tremont for $3.00 tacos.”  When we reminded her that it was happy hour, Megan said, “YES–$2.00 tacos!  Half-price margaritas…amazing!  I had a fish taco and slaw.”

Bridget, also from the Warehouse District, said, “I had the Tofu Taco—very tasty for vegetarians—with your basic stuff:  tomato, onion, and lettuce, tofu, and salsa.  I really liked it.  Actually, I was here on Sunday and go the same thing…so…it’s good enough that I had it again two days later!”

Sam Wainer, a Tremonster of only four weeks, said, “I’ve had dirty tacos, which is the special tonight—super spicy, and super awesome.  I usually do the chicken taco, and I put everything on it:  lettuce, tomato, cilantro, the House Cheese—caso fresco, and the house salsa.”  When asked about his recent move to Tremont, Wainer said, “I moved to Cleveland from California two years ago.  I’d been living in Cleveland Heights.  Before that I lived in New York for five years, so I’ve been looking for a place that was more like Brooklyn, N.Y.  Cleveland Heights was too young—it was just a bunch of college kids, and I’m 33…I just feel like this neighborhood is a better fit for me.  I’ve been here (in Tremont) for four weeks.  Love it.  Totally awesome.  I live around 7thStreet and Literary.”  Wainer added, “The number one thing is:  awesome bars and awesome restaurants that you can walk to.  That’s what we have in Brooklyn.  I—to me, Tremont is like a small version of Brooklyn.  It just has more of a community feel.  You don’t have that…like, ‘here’s New York City, I’m going to pretend to have a community feel in Brooklyn…’  Here we kind of actually have a community feel—it’s unique, it’s different!  There’s something we have here that I’ve never seen in another city.”

Taco Tuesday on the patio of Barrio, alongside Literary Road.

Barrio is located at 806 Literary Road in Tremont.

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