On the brink of closure, customers stepped in to save Taco Vega
On January 22, Jared Simons announced on Instagram that his plant-based Fairfax restaurant Taco Vega would close in days, ending a run that lasted just over a year along one of the longest stretches. famous in the city. It was a heartbreaking loss for Simons, who had struggled to make ends meet selling grilled oyster mushroom asada tacos, scrambled tofu breakfast burritos and grilled yuba pastor bowls at 456 N. Fairfax Avenue. – which was of course previously a different restaurant, also now closed, before Simons took over. Even at its best, the restaurant industry can be unforgiving.
But in the following days, something interesting happened. Loyal Taco Vega supporters, spurred on by the upcoming announcement of the closure on social media, showed up in droves to order Simons. And then they kept coming. Collectively, the familiar crowds (and some new faces, too) turned out to dine in such volume that it forced Simons to reconsider his plans to turn off the lights. It’s been weeks since that first farewell call, and Taco Vega is still going strong.
Taco Vega’s journey shines a light on one of the many tricky corners of restaurant ownership. On paper, it looks like Simons did everything right when opening his restaurant. He built a solid following at festivals and pop-ups; developed a business plan and found investors; found a space with a cheerful take-out window (an ideal feature during a pandemic); and it’s even built padding for delays and overruns, waiting months before opening in January 2021. The prime location is good for foot traffic but tough for competition, across from Dave’s Hot Chicken and a few no Jon & Vinny’s and the almost 70-year-old Canter’s Deli.
Simons has a passion for plant-based foods, a cuisine that continues to thrive in Los Angeles and beyond. Top chefs continue to add meat- and dairy-free options to their menus to appeal to all types of diners, while LA remains a central vegan food innovator. The word “vegan” continues to become less niche and more mainstream, branded by Eleven Madison Park chef Daniel Humm, who reopened his fine-dining establishment last year with an all-plant-based tasting menu.
So how can a restaurant do it all and almost fail? That’s a question Simons is ready to answer. He saw the signs coming in the last quarter of 2021, but doesn’t attribute the slowdown to one thing. “When I opened the business, we were well received,” says Simons. “There was a lot of buzz because it was something I had been trying to launch since 2019. This building ticked a lot of boxes, with the back patio and the take-out window. No one on Fairfax has [a patio], and I know what it takes to make it a sustainable place. I saw steady growth through the summer, and [then] things started to get out of hand.
Simons, like many other restaurateurs, has faced a steady decline in sales after Labor Day. Any restaurateur prepares for downturns throughout the year, especially the pre-September Thanksgiving holiday slump, and weathers a very busy year-end. Factor in low margins, kids going back to school, rising cost of goods and labor — not to mention late 2021 diner concerns about the COVID-19 omicron variant — and you have a restaurant that can’t keep its head above water.
“I’ve seen sales fall off a cliff in the last quarter [of 2021]says Simons. “I told the staff we were going to close.” He made the announcement on Instagram, and then the Los Angeles community chimed in.
“I thought everyone who wanted to come to Taco Vega for their last meal would come on the weekend,” Simons says. “But I ended up doing record sales. It was busier than Cinco de Mayo. I ended up closing the online order because we were slammed. The next day we did another day of sales discs.
Some diners popped in from neighborhood duplexes, while others drove all the way from Orange County to try Simons’ vegan taco wraps, carne asada fries, Ironman Bowl (Simons trains daily as a than a triathlete) or the Baja-style taco made with cauliflower. Sit for an hour at the store these days, and it’s easy to see the steady stream of customers picking up take-out bags from the counter. Many stop by to say hello to Simons himself. For now, Taco Vega’s business is back.
Simons compares this trip to his training for Ironman competitions, when he pushes himself through the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. “I told someone in the endurance community about a 67 mile course that I failed to complete, giving up at mile 44. They always say the last few miles are the hardest part. difficult of the race.” he says. “Closing Taco Vega was my mile 44.”
Of course, the race is still a long way off, but Simons knows he wouldn’t be here without a healthy dose of stamina and more than a little neighborhood love.
Vega Tacos serves plant-based dishes from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily at 456 N. Fairfax Avenue.