Food News

The Pandemic-Era Rise of Talkin’ Tacos

Any business that can rise from a food-truck operation in an off-the-beaten-path convenience store parking lot to two bustling brick-and-mortar stores during a pandemic deserves recognition.

And so we present Mohammad Farraj and Omar Al-Massalkhi, a pair of 26-year-old buddies since high school who co-own Talkin' Tacos.

Like most of us in early 2020, the pair “had all the time in the world,” in Al-Massalkhi’s words, and were hanging out at his house. They started brainstorming ideas for a new food business and Al-Massalkhi happened to have two food trucks from prior endeavors sitting on his property.

Inspired by the trucks, he and Farraj trolled Instagram, where they came across a birria taco truck that was making waves in California. They were intrigued by the creation — a taco filled with meat, Oaxaca cheese, onion, and cilantro that's dipped into a consommé as it's consumed. They noted the absence of restaurants offering birria in South Florida and started experimenting with recipes from there.

“There was a lot of trial and error,” Farraj says with a laugh. “And while a birria taco traditionally is made with goat, we really didn’t have access to that meat. So, we went with beef, played with the spices, and landed on a great recipe.”

In September of 2020, the two hired a chef and parked their truck (called 'Taco Bout It) in the lot of a convenience store in Miami’s West Little River area. Birria tacos were front and center, with select Mexican-inspired morsels in rotation. Farraj reflects, “For two months, we didn’t generate any money and were having to pay rent to the convenience store, too. We were probably selling ten to 15 meals a day at the most.”

Confident they had a winning recipe, the pair refused to give up. They found a spot with higher visibility in Edgewater, near the intersection of Biscayne Boulevard and 30th Street.

Forty-five days at the new location passed without much change. Then, on a December day, they got a call from their chef. “He told us, ‘Get over here right now. There are 50 people in line and I need help!”

Not surprisingly, that day they ran out of ingredients and had to turn away some people. But the seemingly random crowd proved to be no fluke. Buzz about the tacos had spread and the little truck suddenly had a steady stream of customers. In the weeks that followed, the line stretched for blocks. Eventually, the owner of the spot where they were parked told them they had to hit the road.

After an intense location search, they landed on a lot at 24 NE First Ave. in downtown, where, they say, an older gentleman who owned the half-acre lot “felt pity for them.” They parked the truck, bought decorations and tables, and got word out to the 7,000-plus Instagram followers they'd amassed.

The lines quickly built to 90 minutes and then more than two hours long. Farraj says his “this is it” moment came when two customers told him they'd flown down from Washington, D.C., just for tacos and were flying back as soon as they finished eating.

With lengthy lines and a growing band of loyalists, it was brick-and-mortar time. Thanks to a connection from Al-Massalkhi’s father, they purchased a restaurant in Miramar, where they both reside, mothballed the truck, and rebranded as Talkin' Tacos.

When the restaurant opened in May 2021, a line of more than 60 people greeted them. In December, Talkin’ Tacos expanded to Brickell, where sales have quickly exceeded those of the Miramar location.

And now, less than 18 months after its quiet food-truck inception, Talkin’ Tacos is franchising nationally.

“We’ve received numerous letters of intent and have had dozens of investors visit our restaurants here in Florida,” Farraj reports. “It’s been incredible.”

Talkin’ Tacos. 3456 Red Rd., Miramar; 954-404-6398; and 97 SW Eighth St., Miami; 305-381-0211; talkintacos.net.