Here is what is true — Tacos & Mas has closed. The first outpost of the Latin-inspired restaurant known for its traditional Dominican, Puerto Rican and Cuban flavors and family recipes closed Oct. 3.
But here is what also is true – owners Hector and Ana Batista are not done. They will open a new restaurant in the space later this month.
But the new restaurant will not serve tacos.
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Instead, Ciao Bella will offer refined Italian fare in a family-friendly, intimate setting that that is housed at the same space in Greer.
While this news may leave some scratching their heads — how do you go from Dominican to Italian — the path is not as divergent as it may seem. Hector Batista, who started Tacos & Mas with his wife Ana three years ago, spent most of his professional career — nearly three decades — cooking classical Italian fare.
Hector, who is a classically trained chef, cut his chops learning classical French technique and spent the first 15 years of his career as an executive chef in New York and Atlanta, including a long stint at an elegant Italian restaurant.
Whereas Tacos & Mas was getting back to Ana’s family’s roots, Ciao Bella, he said is really getting back to his culinary roots.
“Risotto, lasagna and that’s really what I do at the house because that’s my background,” Hector Batista said with a smile. “So, doing this is nothing new to me. It’s actually more in line.”
The Batistas are not ones to rest on their laurels when they see a chance to improve. In June, the couple responded to what they said was a shift in customer demand and changed, although not quite as dramatically, their Woodruff Road location of Tacos & Mas to Sofrito. The shift included moving away from just tacos to a menu of more stepped up specialty Latin dishes such as Mofongo, empanadas and Sancocho.
But the decision to change concepts at their original store also comes as the Batistas say they have seen a saturation of tacos shops in the market and a dip in demand among customers, and also as they have found a perfect partner in one of their employees.
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Joining them in the new venture is Rosalina Credendino. Credendino, a first-generation Italian immigrant, who grew up working in her parent’s Italian restaurant of 42 years in Florida, will act as a partner, overseeing some of the day-to-day operations and managing the new restaurant.
Credendino brings deep knowledge of Italian food and the business, and “brings credibility,” Batista said.
Batista has spent much of his time in recent weeks working on Ciao Bella’s menu of fresh cut pastas, braised meats, fresh seafood and Hector’s specialty, risotto.
On weekdays, Ciao Bella will offer an additional lunch menu focused on soup, salad and sandwich combinations.
In addition to the food changes, the beverage menu will have Italian wines, a range of beer in bottles and on tap, along with a full bar of spirits.
Décor will also change, though not the structure of the space. Expect new colors and a slightly new arrangement but an equally comfortable and semi-rustic interior with a bit of a more intimate feel, and no more TVs in the dining room.
Even with the changes, Batista said, the soul and the core of the restaurants he and Ana create remains.
“We see opportunities,” Batista said. “And our goal is to provide a great food experience.”
But, for those who really miss the tacos and flavors of Tacos & Mas, you can still get all the restaurant’s tacos at Sofrito.
Ciao Bella is slated to open mid-October at 802 S. Batesville Road in Greer. The restaurant will be open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday.
For more, follow the Tacos & Mas handle on social media.
Lillia Callum-Penso covers food for The Greenville News. She can be reached at [email protected].com or at 864-478-5872, or on Facebook at facebook.com/lillia.callumpenso.
This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Tacos to pasta: Owners close Tacos & Mas; will open refined Italian restaurant Ciao Bella