“Got The Feelin’” by Five floated softly over the airwaves, filling the roughly 300 square feet Taco Party calls home. The tiled floors are worn but homey, complementing the mint green and burnt orange walls that exhibit framed drawings, menus, and retro artwork. Aloe plants hide underneath the high-top counter lining the window front, and a pamphlet that reads “respecting animals means going vegan” lies atop. With only three tables, customers pack into the space during the busiest times of day, waiting by the counter and loitering anywhere there’s room to pick up their orders. The vegan taqueria may be small now, but it won’t be for long.
The restaurant will more than double in size in March, expanding into the unoccupied storefront next door. Located in Ball Square, Somerville, Taco Party will add 1600 square feet to its floor plan to accommodate more dining space, a bar specializing in tequila cocktails, and an enlargement of the existing kitchen. The new space will house two bathrooms, while the existing location has none.
Taco Party’s owner, Keith Schubert, wears a Carhartt beanie and a bright green hoodie. Tattoos on his arms and neck peek out from the collar and sleeves, and he intermittently sips a hot beverage from a metal coffee mug while sitting at one of the tables against the green wall. Schubert has been a vegan for the past seven years, preceded by 10 years of vegetarianism. He founded Taco Party in 2013 as a food truck serving up vegan delicacies and his team prepared food in a commissary, sharing kitchen space with roughly eight other trucks.
“It was mayhem,” Schubert said. “It was very hard to get anything done or find time to be creative. I wanted to get the hell out of there.”
The restaurant was born out of necessity for a space unique to Taco Party. The storefront, once a pizza restaurant, has remained relatively untouched since Schubert bought it, aside from an interior paint job and the addition of the dining counter top.
As the years passed, the restaurant gained more traction in the community and became more than just a space to cook food for the truck. During peak meal times, customers flood the space, ordering takeout or clamoring for a spot at the counter. DoorDash and other food delivery workers pop in and out, collecting food for orders.
“If we’re busy, someone could be sitting at one of these tables and see a bunch of people waiting, they might get the feeling of ‘We’ve gotta get out of here and give up the table,’ ” Schubert said, hopeful the expansion will curb that problem. “Once we have more space for people to just chill, it’ll be a totally more relaxed vibe.”
Taking over the storefront next door, a former art boutique, Taco Party will add 11 seats for diners. Schubert plans to convert the existing storefront into a space for takeout orders. The restaurant has also procured a liquor license, allowing it to operate a full bar specializing in tequila. Schubert also plans to stock the bar with local craft beers, traditional Mexican lagers, and concoct a recipe for vegan mezcal, a spirit made of distilled agave plants.
Taco Party tries to source its food locally and ethically; the tortillas they use are made in Chelsea and many ingredients come from Red Fire Farm in Granby. Schubert said the drink menu won’t be any different.
Taco Party stands as one of the only exclusively vegan food eateries in the area — with the addition of the vegan bar, the taqueria will stand out even more. Eating a plant-based diet for 17 years, Schubert has noticed an uptick in the number of non-meat eaters overall.
“People would come up to the truck to look at the menu and just stare at it. They’d be like ‘I don’t know what any of this is’ and ‘I don’t get what you’re doing,’ ” Schubert said of the past, comparing it to the positive responses and the packed restaurant space he sees now. “Being in this world for so long is mind blowing. It’s awesome.”
Schubert has noted a rise in non-vegans dining at Taco Party as trends in food move toward healthier options.
To make the healthy, plant-based cuisine accessible around the city, Schubert splits his time between the food truck and restaurant. The truck traverses the city throughout the week, parking in different spots depending on the day. Customers can find the truck in the financial district on Tuesdays, Rose Kennedy Greenway on Wednesdays, by the waterfront on Thursdays, and in Harvard Square on Fridays. The food truck also provides catering options.
Schubert said the truck will continue to operate on the same schedule, and will still be a central part of business for Taco Party, though the restaurant may have to close during construction.
Stephanie Clifford, known to regulars as Auntie Fanny, works as a manager in the restaurant space. Clifford, also a vegan, started at Taco Party as a dishwasher and moved up in the company over the past three and a half years. She now cooks at the restaurant location, manages operations, and devises specials to add to the menu.
“I wanted to get my foot in cooking vegan professionally,” Clifford said. “There’s a big vegan population around here but not a lot of places vegans can sit and eat and have a full vegan menu without worrying about any allergens or cross contamination with non-vegan foods.”
Clifford and Schubert both said the closure of the Broadway Bridge has inhibited traffic to the restaurant’s Ball Square location. The Broadway Bridge closed March 22, 2019, detouring cars, pedestrians, and local bus routes long term. The bridge connected Broadway Street, where Taco Party resides, to Somerville neighborhoods east of the taqueria. With the detours, Clifford said there is no accessible way to reach the restaurant.
“Magoun Square is not connected to us anymore, and there’s a lot of kids who live on that side and other people who would just walk, but it’s an extra 20 minutes to get here now,” Clifford said. “We’ve definitely seen some lower sales, especially at night, so I’m excited for that to reopen.” Though unplanned, Taco Party’s reopening following the expansion project will coincide with the bridge opening.