North Street in Burlington is home to one of Vermont’s most diverse neighborhoods. Even in the bitter winter cold, the streets were alive with music, pedestrians, the warm glow of windows and the smell of tacos. As I walked down the snow-laden sidewalk, a hooded man and his buddy were on a second-story porch singing and playing an acoustic guitar as a few brisk snowflakes hit my face.
I entered Taco Gordo. The videographer and I unpacked our camera cases and began to set up. The locals remembered Taco Gordo as a convenience store and a redemption center. With a refresh, it’s now hip, bouncing to a mellow eclectic beat as busy workers setting up for the dinner service anticipate a good night. Meat sizzled, dishes clanked, and the mop bucket sputtered a sticky wheel down the concrete floor. Splat! The bartender mopped up the dried-up salt stains from winter boot tracks. Restaurant-ing is such an energetic happening, and the hustle set the pace that night. Owner and operator Charlie Sizemore donned a blue apron (the restaurateur’s pick of armor) and contemplated his choice of letting us peek behind the curtain. “I’m only doing this for Laz!” he said jokingly. On these assignments, we always strived to capture the essence of business without getting in the way. It’s a fine line. But, on the other hand, it was a testament to the quality of service that Opportunities Credit Union (OCU) offers its clients. Charlie was willingly going outside of his comfort zone to let us invade his space. He did it for Laz Manrique who is the business development officer at OCU. His courage demonstrated Charlie’s appreciation of Laz’s service. The lens cap came off. Snap.
As we embarked on our hunt for the essence of Taco Gordo, the smell of sizzling pork, filled our noses. Immediately, my mouth began to water. A hunk of meat spun slowly on a vertical rotisserie, and sweet fat seeped into a drip pan below. I began to sweat and lost myself in the smells and goings-on. Snap. He was clothed in an American flag sweatshirt and a flat-brimmed hat a cook prepared avocados, diced onions, peppers, and cilantro. He seemed to enjoyed his work. Another cook on the grill was slicing pork. Then Charlie spoke, “the perfect Taco is … pork cooked at a really low temperature for a long time in lard then it gets fried on the flat top [stove]. So, it’s salty, fatty, crispy on a perfectly cooked tortilla with a little bit of salsa verde.” His dark-framed glasses seemed to steam up from the description. The fire rose in my belly, and I paused, distracted as I couldn’t wait much longer to try some of these aromatic morsels for myself.
Charlie cashed in on all the right bites for the video interview, so we took down the film lights and began to capture other photos and clips of his space. The team cranked up the music, finally opened the door, and the patient hipsters brought in smiles with a pang of hunger for corn tortilla tacos, and cocktail drinks in fancy glasses. The atmosphere, the music, the smiles all added up to something beyond food and drink. Taco Gordo was the kind of place you bring a friend to, to let them in on a secret.
The bartender prepared us a specialty Taco Gordo cocktail for the photos. We chose the aptly named El Guapo and Bodega Nights. Both “photographed” very well. Next, the chips and salsa followed by tacos. Still hungry we couldn’t just eat them, they had to be transported through the lens into the digital realm of the awaited OCU blog. And by this point, we had been there for several hours. Not only did it take will power, but also a strong determination to not disturb the subject matter that so eloquently dripped sauce as we gently maneuvered it into a natural, but photogenic resting place. Next, the server brought us house-made hot sauces with hand-written taped on labels, and it was presented in a salsa rainbow of spicy flavor for the delectables from orange to red and then green. The taco experience was in full spectrum. I again adjusted the taco. It felt plump with meat and the corn tortilla crispy I was in complete cerebral restraint.
Charlie spoke about the vibe. “I live a block away. We’re working-class people in this neighborhood, and our [Taco Goro’s] reception has been resoundingly positive,” you can get a beer, tacos, and chips for under $20. That’s a tasty treat for the stomach and the wallet. Charlie knows his audience. Charlie knows food. He’s been working in the restaurant industry for fifteen years. He cut his teeth as a busboy, server, bartender, you know, the works. A man who’d seen it all. Fully confident to not only run the operation but also knew how to cook.
Laz’s Opportunites business lending manager had high respect for Charlie and his food. He went on to say, “Charlie’s project was a mix. At the time Opportunities Credit Union had a promotion that was called ‘4 jobs, 4 business 4 VT’". That promotion was made possible by FHLB of Boston jobs for New England program. It was a great rate and product supporting community development and job growth. Both were in line with Charlie’s project. Also, through investor support combined with an SBA guarantee (85%), Charlie secured financing which supported lease improvements, equipment purchases, and operational costs.”
Laz spent time helping Charlie with developing his business idea, “We initially sat down and discussed different approaches to take. He was in line with our mission in supporting start up’s. He worked with the Small Business Development Center to devise a plan which comprised of projections coupled with a comprehensive business plan properly outlining his project."
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