For those who don’t know the face that is behind their favorite taco joint, meet Ashley Ortiz. Ashley and her husband+business partner, Rick, opened Antique Taco in 2012 and it’s quickly become a Chicago favorite - as proven by the queue present nearly any time of day we go. We hosted our fall salon in The Guest Room - an event space right above Antique Taco with a similar festive aesthetic - and had the chance to talk with Ashley about how Antique Taco came to be, the early days of the Guest Room and what’s next for the King and Queen of tacos.
First could you tell us a little bit about yourself - the businesses you own, how long you’ve been an entrepreneur, what you did in a previous life (or maybe you dreamt of opening a taco shop as a little girl) and your day-to-day?
I own Antique Taco with my husband Rick Ortiz; we opened in May 2012. In my previous life I was involved in the design, events and catering world. I think I always knew I would do something on my own. I believed my ideas made sense , but don’t get me wrong , I was also equally scared people wouldn’t get on board. Looking back so many things had to happen before Antique Taco started. One of main things that had to change was getting out of that safe zone where everything felt ok but not great. Rick and I both left our jobs and traveled for (3) months knowing we wanted to return to open a restaurant together. It took almost a year to find the location and once we got the keys we never looked back.
I always find the varying answers to this one interesting...Did your previous experiences lead you to this? How did they help you, in hindsight, get to this point?
My past work experience certainly helped me understand the business but nothing can fully prepare you for owning your own place. I often say I never want to go back to opening day but I’m also grateful for everything I have learned. We are lucky to have the same front of the house management team since the day we started. We did it together and I couldn’t pretend I knew all the answers because I didn’t.
What were some of the more memorable challenges you faced in opening Antique Taco and/or the Guest Room?
With all the goodness that Antique Taco brings, it has many challengers. The overall maintenance of the space, it’s a small restaurant and an old building and everything gets a lot of use. We are fixing things everyday. Rick and I joke we could be General Contractors if this restaurant thing doesn’t work out. One of the most memorable moments was in the winter of 2013, all the pipes froze at the restaurant. We walked into the restaurant and after a few hours of the pipes thawing, water started spraying out of every faucet. Rick walked down the backstairs and it had a sheet of ice laying the stairs, Rick slipped down the stairs and got a concussion. Being 9 months pregnant I was just praying the baby didn’t want to come out early. We closed the restaurant for a few days. We all needed it!
Alright, so a bit of a "chicken and the egg" question for you here—Did the Guest Room space come before the idea of opening an additional space or the idea before the space? Did you see a need for it beforehand or did the opportunity present itself?
Everyone wants to party and life has many celebrations so I thought a party room would be a success. Antique Taco often gets requests for private events and we often say no because we only have (50) seats and run as a counter service restaurant. I loved the idea of having an event space, so much creativity happens when you get to work with new businesses; it creates new challenges. The units above Antique were residential apartments and they needed a lot of work!!! The building switched owners and we got the green light to build upstairs. After almost a year of construction, one large steel beam, 2 contractors, and many delays, The Guest Room was born.
What’s been your favorite event at the space so far?
The space was certainly not done but everyone pulled together and made it work. We got tables delivered from my woodworker at 11PM the night before, we were hanging lights, covering open wires and placing pictures over open drywall. It was not perfect but in the same moment so perfect, we had a lot to celebrate.
Curious..where did the name Antique Taco come from?
I don’t get to take credit for the menu at Antique Taco but I do get to take credit for the name. Rick and I were traveling and I started a blog about our travels, I called it Antique Taco, two things Rick and I love. The name kind of stuck and it started to grow on me, it was strange but also really simple. Do you serve old tacos, I hear that a few times a week and I have to ask myself what did I expect naming a restaurant Antique Taco. My younger more hip staff tells me people call it “Antique” I like that too.
We especially loved the intricate and festive flower glasses we served margaritas in for the salon - where do you go to look for the decor in your shops? Or is that top secret ;)...
I love the design aspect of Antique Taco; I am my happiest when sourcing antiques or décor for the restaurant. Flea market season is the best, nothing like going to a market and spending hours finding that perfect piece. We have traveled to Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Austin in search of Antiques. Locally we always go to Randolph Antique Market. We use to have a food stand at the market before we opened Antique Taco, and we know all the vendors. They usually cut us a good deal. Elkhorn Flea Market in Wisconsin is always a must over the summer months. We get a lot of plates from Roost in Andersonville. A few blocks from the restaurant is The Ark Thrift store, full of great deals. The large brown leather chair at the front of Antique Taco is from The Ark, $25 dollars with a big tear on the back, nothing a beautiful Mexican blanket can’t fix (shh it’s a secret)
You mentioned you have a new venture in the works - could you tell us a little bit more about what’s next?
We are opening a new restaurant in Bridgeport called Quick Service. Rick is from Bridgeport and has always wanted to open a spot in his neighborhood. I lived in BP for almost (2) years and really loved my time in the area. It has been almost (4) years since Antique Taco opened and here I am back at the beginning trying to get out of my safe zone of Antique Taco. I'm feeling good about our ideas but equally scared people will not get on board. I have some years of experience behind me now so my skin is a bit tougher but as an entrepreneur you have no choice , this is all part of the game.
A huge thank you to Ashley for answering all our questions and hosting our fall salon! To see more pictures from the event, click here. We'll be seeing you and Rick in Bridgeport!