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At Taco Del Mar, Local Owner Puts the ‘Baja’ in Your Meal

Perhaps it’s the fish tacos with crunchy cabbage and a tangy sauce that draw you in. Or maybe the “surf’s up!” attitude and beachy colors. But these days, it might be the idea that you’re supporting a neighborhood small business that causes you to pull over at Greenwood and 80th and place an order at our own Taco Del Mar.

That’s right, your taco fix supports a local business, although being a franchise of a national chain confuses some people, says owner Joshua Diniz. He’s been with Taco Del Mar (TDM) for two decades, and owned his corner Phinneywood shop for nine of those years.

The Covid era has been tough, he says, but he’s been able to mostly keep the doors open, and keep seven of his eight employees on the job.

“I’m blessed to be here,” he says. “I was just telling another business owner there was no way I could have survived this Covid without this neighborhood. Regular customers would come here to eat nearly every day just to support us.”

The menu of burritos and tacos and other Baja favorites are tailor-made for carry-out. To get creative, he added smoothies to the menu. And he started a partnership with Snapshot Brewing, the microbrewery that’s part of the Stretch and Staple shop across Greenwood. “The brewery takes the orders and they pick it up from us,” he explains. People can enjoy some “street tacos” with their craft beer under Snapshot’s tent.

He had to get creative, because when the virus restrictions hit, business plummeted. Everybody’s hours got cut and they took turns working so all could get some pay. One older worker said no, concerned about her health. A PPP loan “helped a lot,” he says, basically doubling everyone’s hours. There was some controversy over larger businesses getting PPP assistance, and franchise restaurant owners scrambled to explain why they were not in that category.

Rising costs, school closures and people staying home have been more challenges to success during the strange past year.

He’s grappled with rising food costs and supply chain issues. Cheese costs more, and beef is up 120 percent. Non-food supplies are up too, like the sanitary food-prep gloves—his cost for those has risen 300 percent.

Hungry kids spilling out of the nearby St. John’s school was a big source of revenue, but that dried up with the school closures.

The TDM umbrella organization has been helping their franchise owners get through this, though, he said. They cut down their royalties for four months, and upon his request they printed signage to identify the shop as a locally owned business. They also created an online order system. Go to Taco Del Mar: Locations and search on Greenwood or use your ZIP code.

The shop has ramped up to full time again, open weekdays 10 am to 10 pm, Fridays 10 am to 9 pm and weekends 11 am to 9 pm.

Joshua’s personal life was upended by the virus too. He is originally from Goa, a small coastal state in western India, and his parents were to come to Seattle to visit last summer. That hasn’t happened, the future is unclear, and he’s concerned about them. “It’s been rough for them over there,” he says. “They don’t have anyone but me.”

He explains that his name might seem unusual, given his heritage, but that Goa was a Portuguese colony, hence his surname Diniz, his wife’s maiden name Fernandes, and his mother’s maiden name of Rodrigues.

For the seafaring Portuguese, “Goa was a good connecting point for the ships to go from one place to another,” he says. “That’s why most of the Goans are seafarers.”

Now 38, he shipped into Seattle as a 20-year-old, excited about seeing snow after growing up in a place that was as warm as Florida. But being on the coast here appealed to a boy who had grown up five minutes from the Arabian sea.

Perhaps Joshua’s heritage explains why he was drawn to putting the “del Mar” into tacos. He is proud of the fact that his food is fresh and healthy, with options both vegetarian and vegan. He’s incorporated the use of “Beyond Meat,” and he says most of the food, including the sauces, are made fresh every day.

So next time you’re surfing by the corner at 80th, hit the beach at Taco Del Mar. As you crunch through a fresh Baja-style taco, know that you’re helping to keep another of our essential small businesses alive.