Port Townsend taqueria off to healthy start with third season
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San Juan Taqueria owner Lani Wallace, left, and cook Vicki Vazquez prepare a meal this week. --Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND — The San Juan Taqueria fills a unique culinary niche in this city where the West Sims Way McDonald’s is the only fast food chain to be seen.

“This is healthy food. It’s quick and affordable, which is something you don’t find in this town,” owner Lani Wallace said of her eatery.

Open seasonally at the corner of San Juan and F streets, Wallace began the taqueria’s third stretch of serving made-to-order tacos, burritos, salads, tostadas and quesadillas earlier this month.

The business is run out of a 10-foot-by-20-foot trailer on a rented lot, and its menu items are priced from $2.75 to $8.75.

“This is all California style,” she said. “We don’t have crispy tacos, and the burritos aren’t all sauced up.

“I’ve always loved Mexican food. I like the restaurants in town, but I wanted to offer something that wasn’t here already.”

Wallace, who employs two full-time and three part-time workers, said she has operated at a break-even point but has just “turned the corner” after her recent opening.

She serves about 150 meals a day to a variety of customers: “young people, old people, people riding their bikes and people coming from out of town,” she said.

The stand’s location is away from downtown and doesn’t get as much tourist action as Dogs-a-Foot, a seasonal stand at the corner of Water and Madison streets, but many out-of-town customers stop in on their way to Fort Worden State Park or the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, Wallace said.

“We’ve had people who remember us from one year to the next and tell us they really like the food,” Wallace said.

While business is improving, the growth opportunities are limited because the stand operates under a temporary use permit, which grants a six-month period with a possible two-month extension.

Under the terms of the permit, the stand can’t offer seating unless it installs bathrooms, something that Wallace isn’t willing to do.

“I’m renting here, so I’m not going to make those kinds of improvements,” she said.

The stand isn’t easily moved, so it’s impractical to move to Point Hudson for the Wooden Boat Festival, she said.

“Some people think that operating out of a trailer is easy, but there are a lot of things you need to consider,” she said.

Wallace, 48, has lived in Port Townsend for 23 years and “has been in the restaurant business forever,” working at Fins Coastal Cuisine and the Public House, among other businesses.

She was encouraged to strike out on her own by her husband, Matt, who is a roofing contractor.

“This is a different kind of food cart. It’s off the beaten path,” Matt Wallace said.

“It’s in the middle of a neighborhood, and it creates its own local scene.

“It’s real food cooked in a wholesome way that is perfect for taking the family out. Usually, it costs a lot more for this kind of food.

“We are getting a lot of repeat customers. The word has been spreading.”

The San Juan Taqueria is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.

Summer hours could be extended, Wallace said.

For more information, phone 360-385-1728.


Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 25. 2014 6:02PM
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