When the Panera Bread in the Highlands closed permanently in early June, it left a prime cafe location with a drive-thru empty — but not for long.
I Love Tacos, a new family-run taco restaurant in Jeffersontown, is moving in and opening a second location by December, said co-owner Ernesto Rivera.
Rivera and his partner, Alfredo Garcia, opened the first I Love Tacos at 9909 Taylorsville Road in Jeffersontown inApril, in the middle of the restaurant shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. Originally, it was set to open the week Gov. Andy Beshear ordered restaurants and bars close to in-person customers.
“I thought, what are we going to do?” Rivera said. “We had just renovated the space, put our money into it. But the great thing was we had already prepared without knowing, with iPad ordering and online ordering all ready.”
In a matter of days, business began flowing in. Adding on Grubhub delivery helped, too. The taco restaurant flourished with what Rivera calls a simple menu of home-style cooking made from scratch.
“We make everything to order and it’s fresh as it can be,” he said. “We just launched the birria tacos three weeks ago and it’s now our No. 1 seller, made from scratch with two different kinds of peppers and spices and brisket.”
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Rivera said in Mexico, birria tacos are traditionally made with goat, which customers are typically split on. Brisket was a safer bet — and it’s delicious, he said, served with onion, cilantro, melted cheese and birria broth.
Rivera is no stranger to the restaurant industry. He previously owned Ernesto’s in the East End, then moved to other industries like Republic National Distributing Co. for a while. A desire to work for himself again led he and Garcia to open I Love Tacos in Jeffersontown.
He said he wasn’t looking to open a second location of I Love Tacos so soon, but couldn’t pass up the 4,300-square-foot Highlands location, complete with a patio and a capacity of more than 120 seats.
“One thing we know about the Highlands is they support local businesses,” he said. “We feel like we have a good concept and great food, service and price — I think it’s going to do very well in that location and area.”
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I Love Tacos serves tortas, tacos, salads, quesadillas and burritos, as well as several signature dishes such as the birria tacos, tinga and shrimp tacos and a fully loaded torte asada. The Burrito Love is made with the customer’s choice of steak, chicken or pork with garlic, white or Mexican rice, black or pinto beans, lettuce, pico de gallo, crema and queso. One of the most popular tacos is the beer-battered fish, Rivera said, and the menu has several vegetarian options, as well.
The new location in the Highlands will have a full bar and serve the restaurant’s signature margaritas, made from scratch without mixers.
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Rivera said he’s already had some inquiries about franchising the business, which he is considering for the future after it’s polished a little more. He said he understands why it’s an attractive concept.
“I think the name says it all,” he said. “It’s simple looking logo, where it tells you simply, ‘I love tacos.’ I think that makes it attractive to customers, too.”
I Love Tacos in Jeffersontown is open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Dahlia Ghabour: 502-582-4497; [email protected]; Twitter: @dghabour. Support strong journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/subscribe.
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