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Restaurant owner ditches fine dining for tacos

In 2007, Joe Hargrave took the plunge—leaving behind a career in operations at fine-dining restaurants in California to open his own place. It’s a story a lot of us are familiar with.

But when Hargrave stepped up to the plate, the restaurant business tossed him a curveball. His first venture, a high-end Spanish restaurant in San Francisco called Laïola, was flailing. It was time for some self-reflection. Joe looked back to his childhood and tried to reconnect with things he was truly passionate about. What first came to mind? Mexican food. Specifically? Tacos.

In 2009, Hargrave and his partners launched a little taco stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market with a “fittingly frivolous” name: Tacolicious. It was an immediate hit and quickly drove Hargrave to pursue expansion. Hear below how he was able to create a sit-down, cocktail-driven taco restaurant that allowed him to ditch the suit-and-tie life for a much more casual role in restaurant operations.

Tacolicious, 120 tequilas strong, features a chef-driven menu anchored by tacos but also pushes the envelope with such entrees as tuna tostadas, grilled squid served Veracruz-style, albondigas and shrimp a la diabla.

Today, just six years in, Tacolicious Management Inc. operates four Tacolicious locations throughout the Bay Area, as well as a tequila bar called Mosto, and Chino, a fun and casual Asian restaurant. He’s also got a Mexican food line featured in Williams-Sonoma.

No more suits and ties for Hargrave. Sure, he’s a c.e.o., but he’s overseeing an operation that celebrates sunshine, baseball, music, art and—most importantly—tacos. In other words, he’s living the dream.

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