Openings and Closings

Q&A With Rocco Mangel of Rocco's Tacos: "I Really Am Just a Glorified Bus Boy "

With its first location on Clematis Street back in 2007 and an additional location in Boca Raton, Rocco's Tacos has been a big hit in the South Florida restaurant scene. The fact that the menu holds more than 220 different types tequila doesn't hurt either!

Last week, we sat down with Rocco Mangel, who runs Rocco's along with the Big Time Restaurant Group, for a Q&A. And yes -- we asked him when the Las Olas location is going to open!

Clean Plate Charlie: Tell us how you became involved in the Restaurant and hospitality industry?

Rocco Mangel: My father owned restaurants and my grandfather ran the Copacabana in Manhattan, so I have been brought up around the restaurant business my whole life. When I was 13, I worked part time in my father's restaurant in New York and continued to do so throughout high school.

Clean Plate Charlie: Clematis Street has its ups and downs, why did you choose Clematis Street for your first location?

Rocco Mangel: I moved here from New York in 1997 and I worked as a bus boy for the Big Time Restaurant Group, I worked there for four years. Then I worked for GiGi's for a awhile and eventually I started to work at Moquilla, a Mexican restaurant in Boca Raton that I managed with my friend Karl Alterman. I really enjoyed the concept of working in a Mexican restaurant and I knew that I wanted to open my own. I had dinner at City Cellar and that's where I met Bill and Todd of Big Time Restaurant Group [whom are now my partners]. We spoke about my ideas concerning a concept in collaboration with food -- and it took off from there.

Clean Plate Charlie: You opened your first location in Clematis Street back in 2007 and since then, you have opened another location in Boca Raton. You are now opening a third location on Las Olas Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. To what do you owe your success?

Rocco Mangel: The majority of our concept comes from the development of the concept. We didn't just decide to open a Mexican Restaurant -- all of us traveled around the country and to Mexico to look at Mexican Restaurants and taste the cuisine; I even went as far as to work on some taco trucks in LA. My partners and I tried to get as much information on our concept as possible. Our culinary director Lisabet Summa works very hard to design a very good menu. Additionally, we combined authentic Mexican cuisine with great drinks, a great atmosphere and really good professional service -- I think that's where it comes about.

Clean Plate Charlie: You make your guacamole fresh to order. Tell us about that.

Rocco Mangel: Everything is fresh, the guacamole is made fresh, the tortillas and sauces are made freshly everyday. We also make everything from our bar daily -- our margarita mix and all of our specialty drinks are fresh. Because of this concept, we do spend extra and have a little waste; that's the sacrifice we make for quality. In Mexico, they don't use frozen goods, they make their food from scratch -- and we are trying to replicate as many aspects of serving authentic, casual Mexican cuisine as possible. And for someone who has traveled to Mexico over 20 times, I am very pleased with our results.

Clean Plate Charlie: Did you help to design the menu?

Rocco Mangel: My emphasis is primarily on the drink menu. Our culinary director, Lisabet Summa along with some of our other chefs will often create a dish, then my partners and myself will try the food in order to decide what goes on the menu. For the most part, the chefs are responsible for the menu. Some of the recipes on the menu are my own, including the guacamole.

Clean Plate Charlie: I understand that you make your tortillas fresh, tell me a little about that process.

Rocco Mangel: We create our tortillas by hand from a masa dough and then they are pressed and cooked in the comal in our kitchen.

Clean Plate Charlie: What can you tell me about the nightlife at Rocco's Tacos? What can we expect on any given night?

Rooco Mangel: We have a bar with a flare. I do get on the bar from time to time and will pour everybody a little bit of tequila. I don't do it all the time, it's really a hit or miss kind of a thing, but I think that's what makes it nostalgic. We also play top 40 music. We are really looking to create an atmosphere that is fun and exciting for everyone, not just one particular group. We are looking for the moms and the pops, the 14 year old high school kid, 7 years olds who come in to celebrate their birthdays, couples who are looking to go out and have fun or on another night they can come and have a nice quiet evening. We want people to come in and be able to celebrate anything -- or better yet, just celebrate to celebrate.

Clean Plate Charlie: Your menu holds over 220 different types of tequilas that are divided into "Premium", "Aged", "Rested", "Silver" and "Gold". Tell us about this concept and a little about what differentiates one tequila from the next.

Rocco Mangel: I love tequila and have tried every tequila on our menu. Tequila to Mexico is what Vodka is to Russia -- so there is a pretty extensive variety to choose from. [Rocco then proceeds to show me a long list that organizes the tequilas by make and price] Our "Premium" tequilas are higher quality tequilas, "Aged" tequilas have been in a oak cask for at least one year and it aquires a woody flavor, "Rested" tequilas are aged in wood barrels from two to twelve months which gives them a carmel or butterscotch flavor, "Silver" tequila is "unaged" at only 60 days old and may be bottled fresh from distillation and "Gold" tequila have a lighter flavor than silver tequila and also has a golden color.

Clean Plate Charlie: What is your best selling tequila and what is your personal favorite? Rocco Mangel: The majority of guests that come in here are more than likely going to ask for a shot of a Patron. I also love and have great relationship with Patron. Patron Gran Burdeos is the most expensive tequila we sell, it goes for $220 a shot.; it's aged and comes in a beautiful bottle. Regular Patron drinkers often don't like this type, so it really just comes down to personal preference.

Clean Plate Charlie: Do you have any reccomendations? What would you suggest for a rookie and what would you suggest for a hard-core tequila drinker?

Rocco Mangel: I would tell everyone to drink tequila warm, thats how I drink and that is how it is served in Mexico. If your a beginner, I would recomend that you order your tequila slightly chilled or have it on the rocks. I would also suggest that a beginner order a triple distilled (which is a little pricier) blanco tequila, such as a Milagro Bar Select which is really good and very smooth; it's almost a little watery which makes it easier for a beginner to drink.

Clean Plate Charlie: Can you describe and give us a little history on your famous "Tequila dance"?

Rocco Mangel: One night while I was in my Palm Beach location, the tequila song came on and I jumped on the bar with a sombrero and whistle; I started to dance and pour people tequila. People really enjoyed it, so I went online and bought 11 pairs of white, patent leather dancing shoes. So I continue to do the tequila dance with the shoes and a microphone [no whistle or sombrero] on any given night. Sometimes I'll do it if it's someones birthday or on the weekends -- people really like it and recognize the dance from peewee Herman. It's really making a comeback. I walk up and down the bar and pour my guests Patron. I do this because I have a very good relationship with Patron and because it's the most popular tequila; almost everyone loves it. Some restaurants have copied this concept and they do it every night. I do the dance randomly at any given time, this way it never loses appeal. Although on Cinco de Mayo -- I have a friend of mine who fills in for me and goes from location to location -- this way everyone gets to see it. I was on the bar twice this weekend in Boca Raton and then I went to West Palm and did the dance three times.

Clean Plate Charlie: What are your plans for the grand opening of Rocco's Tacos on Las Olas?

Rocco Mangel: I'm most likely going to have the opening on a Wednesday night and I recommend that people arrive by 5 pm.There will be pass-arounds and an open bar until 10 pm. Anyone who would like to go should become a fan of Rocco's Tacos on Facebook for updates or special invitations. We will officially open on a Thursday, we will open every evening at 5 pm up until Sunday . Starting the following Monday, we will be open seven days a week for lunch and dinner -- hours are to be announced. We also plan on having late night taco service. So if your hungry for tacos late at night, no one should have to go to Taco Bell; they can always come to Rocco's Tacos. The tacos are very inexpensive and additionally, the late night menu will be discounted so people can order multiple rounds.

Clean Plate Charlie: What do you look for in a potential employee?

Rocco Mangel:We welcome everybody -- all shapes, colors, backgrounds and sizes to come work at Rocco's Tacos. We had over 175 people apply for the bartending position, so it really comes down to experience. I also look for a really good attitude. I started as a waiter and a bus boy. Now a lot of people look at me like a big time restaurant owner -- I really am just a glorified bus boy.

Clean Plate Charlie:What are you planning on doing next?

Rocco Mangel: We do have dome things in the works, but nothing that I can disclose at this time. We also plan on opening more Rocco's Tacos and every location may be slightly different from the next. Our Boca location is very food driven not as party driven to where as my Palm Beach location is really a combination of night life and food; I expect that Fort Lauderdale will be a combination of both as well.

Follow Clean Plate Charlie Facebook on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB.
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Nikki Braverman