RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Carlos Ordaz-Nunez says he left the Richmond area to become a better person and cook, but the owner of TBT El Gallo has big plans for the future and doesn’t see them happening anywhere else.
“The Richmond restaurant community means the world to me and I don’t ever want to leave Richmond,” he said. “I love Richmond. I love this city. I love this area. This is the place where I want to grow myself as a restaurateur.”
Ordaz-Nunez, who grew up in Mechanicsville, went from showcasing his food during pop-ups, where he said he would beg people to let him cook in their parking lots, to opening TBT El Gallo, a Fan-based takeout taco restaurant, in March 2021.
He told 8News that has always bet on himself to succeed, but credited the people who helped along the way and the chefs who paved the way for him. Ordaz-Nunez spoke about his admiration for cooks who put Richmond on the map with Southern food, including Adam Hall and Lee Gregory.
“It was just beautiful to see how welcoming other pop-ups, breweries and farmer’s markets were and basically how the Richmond restaurant community was so willing to embrace me and my weird taco shop, pop-up thing,” Ordaz-Nunez said with a laugh.
Now, a little over a year later, Ordaz-Nunez is planning the opening of a second TBT — short for tacos, burritos and tortas — at the Willow Lawn shopping center. When he first looked at the space for the new location, Ordaz-Nunez couldn’t believe his eyes.
“The first thing we did was we walked into the kitchen and I’m looking at it and thinking, this is bigger than my restaurant,” he told 8News. But it wasn’t the kitchen, it was only the “private storage kitchen,” Ordaz-Nunez said.
“So, we went through the door and I saw the actual size and, it’s ridiculous. I was thinking this is way more than I thought I was going to get,” Ordaz-Nunez explained, adding that the location gives him three times the storage and cooking space as his first location.
Unlike the first TBT, which is located at 2118 W. Cary Street, the new spot will have indoor dining. Ordaz-Nunez says he’s aiming to fit “approximately 60 to 75 people” at the restaurant, but it will depend on how the seating is arranged.
“And we’re going to continue to do the whole fast, casual counter-service style just because I feel it’s the fairest way to accommodate all employees because I believe in the tip pool system for all employees,” he added.
Ordaz-Nunez said they have yet to break ground on the location, but that it’s already built out and is a “beautiful space.”
He needs to work with Henrico County and the City of Richmond on a few details and make some equipment changes but he’s hopeful that the process won’t take as long as launching his first restaurant. Still, he doesn’t want to make promises on an opening date.
“I learned the hard way with the first one location giving a firm date out, because I had expectations for a day and basically eight months after that date is when we opened,” Ordaz-Nunez said. “So, I would like to open in September but don’t hold me to that.”
In terms of what the new shop may have, Ordaz-Nunez says there might not be a full bar but he aims to have tequila, margaritas and beer at the Willow Lawn location.
“For me, a taqueria should have three core things,” he said. “You should be able to get really good tacos. You should be able to get a good beer-slash-margarita and you should be able to get paletas, which are like Mexican popsicles.”
Ordaz-Nunez has no interest in building “the next Chipotle” or expanding outside the area, he said. Instead, he wants to create “a Richmond thing for Richmond people,” but one that doesn’t exclude those from outside the area.
“It’s Richmond or bust. I definitely want people to feel and know that I’m prioritizing my Richmond market, and this is where I want to be,” he told 8News. “This is where I want to grow my hospitality career. Whether that’s opening a couple more of these or doing other concepts, I want to be Richmond-focused first and foremost for as long as the city will have me.”
In the future, Ordaz-Nunez said he would like to open more TBTs in the area so people from surrounding counties don’t have to travel so far to experience his food. But he said he also hopes to start developing new concepts that revolve around the core belief of modern Mexican new-wave cooking.
“I would love to be part of this new wave of young Mexican cooks and push the envelope on what Mexican food can be and what it’s perceived as,” Ordaz-Nunez said.