Give Now  »

Tacotarian’s plant-based tacos aren’t just for vegetarians [replay]

Read Transcript
Hide Transcript


KAYTE YOUNG:  From WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana, I'm Kayte Young. And this is our dates.

DAN SIMMONS:  There are a lot of people, they like the faux meats and they want to eat a Carne Asada that reminds of the actual, like, Beef Carne Asada. There are a lot of people who try to steer clear from the faux meats, so we wanted to have plenty of veggie items on the menu for them as well.

DAN SIMMONS:  We really wanted to represent different ingredients and different flavors that anybody can come and enjoy.

KAYTE YOUNG:  This week on the show, producer, Toby Foster visits with one of the owners of Tacotarian in Las Vegas, Nevada. Plus, East Coast style bagels come to Indiana, and a story from Harvest Public Media about too many trees in all the wrong places.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That's all coming up. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Thanks for listening to Earth Eats. I'm Kayte Young. First up, a story from producer, Toby Foster, about a recent trip to Las Vegas and a visit to a favorite food spot. Here is Toby.

TOBY FOSTER:  One of the things we have been talking about lately at Earth Eats is the various approaches to plant based eating. Especially now that there are so many options out there than can vary greatly in quality and even more so in price.

TOBY FOSTER:  Kayte has strict criteria for meat consumption and when dining out she usually eats vegetarian. She prefers her vegetarian entrées to be vegetable forward and not mimicking the texture of meat.

TOBY FOSTER:  I've been vegetarian since high school and I'm thrilled whenever I see an impossible burger on a menu at an airport. Or even at some of the fast food chains that have added it to their menus recently, when I'm craving that sort of comfort or nostalgia.

TOBY FOSTER:  I know meat eaters who prefer Beyond Burger because of the way it "bleeds," vegans who seem to live off of French fries alone, and folks who can somehow seem to survive off of an occasional bowl of mixed greens and quinoa with olive oil.

TOBY FOSTER:  One of my favorite restaurants, Tacotarian in Las Vegas, Nevada, offers something for all types of approaches to plant based eating and it's why I wanted to interview them on a recent trip out west.

TOBY FOSTER:  As the name suggests, they are a vegetarian Mexican, restaurant and their tacos include Carne Asada, and Al Pastor made with homemade Seitan, vegetable forward tacos, starring mushrooms, potatoes, hibiscus or plantains and the Gabacho Taco, which uses Beyond Beef, to offer something similar to the ground beef taco you might find at Taco Bell.

TOBY FOSTER:  I got there right after they opened on an October morning where the temperature was already approaching 90 degrees, to chat with one of the owners, Dan Simmons, about their approach to plant based cuisine, while Las Vegas is so much more than just celebrity chefs selling $30 cheeseburgers and how Tacotarian makes if part of their mission to give back to the community.

DAN SIMMONS:  Hi, my name is Dan Simmons, I am one of the co-founders of Tacotarian.

DAN SIMMONS:  Tacotarian is a plant based Mexican restaurant and what that means is all the ingredients we use for all our food, all our drinks, everything in the whole restaurant are derived from plants. We don't use an animal products. No dairy, no eggs, no meat.

DAN SIMMONS:  We opened our first location just a little over five years ago. We just celebrated our five year anniversary of the brand in August.

TOBY FOSTER:  Wow, that's great and now you're up to four additional locations, or is it five?

DAN SIMMONS:  It's five, yes. We actually have five. We have four in Las Vegas, where we're based out of, and we have one in San Diego.

TOBY FOSTER:  Tacotarian has four owners. Dan and his wife, Regina and another couple, Carlos and Kristen. As you might expect in a city like Las Vegas, they had a lot of collective restaurant experience, but it's the first time any of them has ever owned their own restaurant.

DAN SIMMONS:  We all have a restaurant background. We've all had various positions in restaurants in our lifetime, but this is, for the four of our founding members, this is our first dive into restaurant ownership.

TOBY FOSTER:  The idea for the restaurant was borne out of a trip that the four friends took to Mexico City together. On a personal note, I recently visited Mexico City myself for the first time and was blown away by all the vegan and vegetarian options. Usually when I go to a new city, I spend hours walking around getting familiar with my surroundings and stopping to look at the menus of every restaurant I pass.

TOBY FOSTER:  Often, as a vegetarian, my inner monologue reads something like hmm, not much there, one or two things there, veggie burger there. But walking around Mexico City was something more like, wow, this place looks even better than the place across the street. How will we decide where to go? Could we maybe fit four meals into the day? I highly recommend a trip there for anybody who loves to eat or who is looking for a little inspiration themselves.

DAN SIMMONS:  When we were coming up with the concept at the time, my wife and I, we had been talking about doing a Mexican restaurant for a little while then. It was just an idea of ours, and then we ended up partnering with our partners Carlos and Kristen and Carlos and Kristen, at the time, were the only vegans out of the four of us, so we took a trip to Mexico City for a little inspiration.

DAN SIMMONS:  When we were there, we tried a whole bunch of different vegan restaurants, vegan tacos, vegan food and it was, like, it all just worked so well. Like, just all the different seasoning and spices of the Mexican food, just like really worked well with the vegan ingredients. So, like, a lot of mushrooms with, like, the different marinades and different seasonings and different spices and we had some squash blossoms.

DAN SIMMONS:  It was mostly the vegetable type items that were just, you know, seasoned perfectly and in great marinades, great sauces and it just worked so well.

DAN SIMMONS:  It was there that we were like, you know what, like, doing a plant based or vegan restaurant that will set us apart from the other Mexican restaurants in town. You know, there are so many, so that will make us unique and we really believed that it could work and that we could do this.

TOBY FOSTER:  What I really appreciate about Tacotarian is the diversity of their menu and their approaches to vegetarian food. One of the tacos I always go back to is the Plantain Con Mole, which is a fairly simple preparation of a fried plantain, but topped with a rich and complex mole sauce and pickled red onions. But I also savor the nostalgic feeling I get from the Gabacho Taco that uses Beyond Meat to stand in for ground beef, served in a crispy tortilla with lettuce, tomatoes, crema and vegan cheese.

TOBY FOSTER:  Sometimes I think that people feel like they have to pick a side when it comes to plant based eating. The side of vegetables being vegetables, or the side of soy and pea proteins standing in for various meats and cheeses.

TOBY FOSTER:  I think it's just nice to have more options and that the two approaches can work together to create exciting new flavors.

TOBY FOSTER:  For example, I generally don't really like jack fruit, but the Birria Platter, which uses a blend of jack fruit and Beyond Beef for their taco fillings, served with a savory dipping sauce, is one of my favorite things on the menu.

TOBY FOSTER:  I was curious if Dan and his other co-owners thought about this as they developed their menu and what types of things customers tend to gravitate towards.

DAN SIMMONS:  When we were developing the menu, we wanted the focus to be on tacos, and that's why Tacotarian. You know, it's like a vegetarian but a Tacotarian. So it's, you know, someone that loves tacos. We really wanted to have a good balance on the menu and we wanted to have a lot of variety. There are a lot of people, a lot of customers who, they like the faux meats and they want to try, they want to eat a Carne Asada that reminds them off, you know, the actual, like, Beef Carne Asada.

DAN SIMMONS:  So, we want to have variety like that for those customers and the chicken and the fish. But then, there are a lot of people who try to steer clear from the faux meats, so we wanted to have plenty of veggie items on the menu for them as well.

DAN SIMMONS:  We really wanted to represent different ingredients and different flavors that anybody can come and enjoy.

TOBY FOSTER:  Can you talk about a couple that you think have been the most successful or the most popular?

DAN SIMMONS:  The most popular are definitely-- and I think there is a lot of name recognition there-- so it's, like, our Carne Asada, our Al Pastor. Those are our best selling tacos. Again, I think, you know, people come in and they recognize oh Carne Asada and then they try it out and it really does taste like Carne Asada. I think we get a lot of repeat customers and a lot of repeat business with that. Some of our most popular tacos might not necessarily be the best selling, but they get the best feedback and there is kind of a great following, I guess, for them.

DAN SIMMONS:  You know, we have our Baja Taco, which is a beer battered avocado which, you know, it kind of replicates sort of a fried beer batter fish taco but it's with avocado. Very good. We do a Dorado Taco, that's just, it's a fried taco with mashed potatoes in the middle. Very simple, but very delicious. People really enjoy that one as well. We do one that we call a Gabacho Taco, which translates to kind of, like, an American taco and its sort of like a take on a crunchy taco from Taco Bell, where you have, like, the crunchy shell, the ground beef, lettuce, shredded cheese. All that.

DAN SIMMONS:  So, I guess this is a pretty cliché answer, but all our tacos are pretty popular but, in my opinion, those stand out.

TOBY FOSTER:  And for the Al Pastor and Carne Asada, what is the meat substitute?

DAN SIMMONS:  For those we use Seitan and Seitan, it is basically a very concentrated protein from wheat, and then for the Carne Asada we mix it with mushrooms and then we season it. The Seitan we use for the Pastor, it is a different Seitan. Like, we don't use mushrooms for that one. For that one we use garbanzo beans with the wheat and then all the different seasonings and stuff that go into it.

TOBY FOSTER:  And so, are you mixing the mushrooms or the garbanzo beans in with the wheat gluten to make the Seitan?

DAN SIMMONS:  Yes, we mix it all together. You kind of make it into a loaf. I guess you could compare it to like a meatloaf or even a loaf of bread and then it is steamed in the oven.

TOBY FOSTER:  The cooking method that Dan is talking about is my favorite way to make Seitan and, honestly, something I wish more people knew about. When I first went vegetarian, every cookbook recommended boiling a mix of gluten flour and water in a giant pot with maybe a splash of soy sauce and a bay leaf or two, resulting in something tough and flavorless that makes you think more of wheat paste than anything edible.

TOBY FOSTER:  After a friend and co-worker showed me how to make the loaf style Seitan, I never looked back. It's a really easy way to mix in a ton of flavor through herbs and spices and you can add in ingredients like mushrooms or chickpeas, as Dan mentioned, to make something with a little more nutritional value.

TOBY FOSTER:  The texture also comes out really nicely, and though the mixing is a bit of work, it is easy enough to make a big batch and it stays good for a long time. Isa Chandra Moskowitz, who some might know for her book Veganomicon, recently put out a cookbook called "Fake Meat," with several recipes for this style of Seitan, if you are interested in learning more.

TOBY FOSTER:  After a quick break, we will get back to my conversation with Dan Simmons, owner of Tacotarian in Las Vegas, Nevada.

TOBY FOSTER:  I'm Toby Foster and welcome back to Earth Eats. I'm speaking with Dan Simmons, co-owner of Tacotarian in Las Vegas, Nevada.

TOBY FOSTER:  I'm always curious with plant based or mostly vegetarian restaurants, if the owners have a specific motivation in mind, such as animal rights or trying to reduce their carbon footprint.

DAN SIMMONS:  It's kind of across the board. Like I mentioned before, when we started the restaurant, my partners, they were the only vegans at the time. Like, my wife and I weren't when we started. We did switch over after that. But, my partner Kristen was very big into animal rights. She's on different boards here in town for N.S.P.C.A and things like that. So, for her, her main motivation was animal rights and then, for myself, just kind of getting into the lifestyle and kind of seeing all the benefits of a vegan diet, from the animal rights, to the environmental, even to the health standpoint. It all resonates with me now. Like, I see the benefits of all three of those things, yes.

TOBY FOSTER:  When you tell people you're taking a trip to Las Vegas, they usually love to share their opinions with you. And I get it. If you're not careful, there are plenty of ways to wait in long lines, spend a bunch of money and not do anything particularly fun or exciting. But one of the reasons I love to visit is that there are some excellent restaurants, both on and off the Strip.

TOBY FOSTER:  It's a large and diverse city with lots of different cuisines available, and everything from classic fine dining restaurants to small strip mall store fronts, to modern artsy down town eateries. I wondered what it's like to be part of that community, and about some of the misconceptions of the food scene in Las Vegas.

DAN SIMMONS:  The food scene in Las Vegas is great. I mean, I guess to the person outside of the market, they just see the Strip and they see a lot of celebrity chefs. You know, you have your Gordon Ramsays and your Wolfgang Pucks but, like, besides all those big named chefs there's a whole lot of great executive chefs working in all those restaurants who are local, who live in Las Vegas, their families live in Las Vegas, they are part of the community here.

DAN SIMMONS:  Over the last five plus years, we've seen a lot of those chefs from the Strip move into the suburbs and away from the Strip and downtown in different areas and open their own restaurants. In my opinion, that was the biggest evolution of the food scene here, was just, you know, like, all the great chefs that are running these celebrity chef restaurants on the Strip, started doing their own thing and brought a lot of talent and a lot of expertise out away from the Strip. So, yes, the food scene is definitely great here.

TOBY FOSTER:  I was actually going to ask about how that affects, I don't know just staffing in general, because it is such a service based town. I guess I was wondering if it makes it harder to find staffing, because you have so many places that need so many people to work all the time or if that is a benefit. Which it sounds like you are kind of saying that it is.

DAN SIMMONS:  It is. I mean, we are, of course, kind of, like, in and out of a very weird time right now since 2020 so, like, it kind of seems like for six months it's like, oh there's a lot of people out there looking for jobs, and then for the next six months you can't find anybody and it's kind of bouncing around. But yes, I mean, the fact that it is a service based industry town, there are a lot of people who you can find. You know, you can find more long term employees, I would say, in this market than, you know, maybe another market where the service industry isn't as big.

DAN SIMMONS:  The restaurant industry still does have a lot of turnover. There are people coming and going all the time. It's just the nature of the business. But I do think, yes, in Las Vegas there's definitely a bigger pool of employees who will stay with you longer.

TOBY FOSTER:  In addition to their four locations in Las Vegas, Tacotarian recently opened a fifth location in San Diego. I was curious about some of the challenges related to scaling up a business so quickly and, particularly, with opening their first location in another state.

DAN SIMMONS:  No business is without it's challenges and the restaurant industry is definitely a very imperfect business, so you just have to kind of roll with it every day and just realize, you know, stuff is going to happen. Things are going to happen. You just have to get through all the different challenges with patience and a smile.

DAN SIMMONS:  Scaling from one to five locations was definitely hard. I had mentioned before that our founding members, there are four of us, so it's nice having four of us members and, you know, that is a pretty large ownership team, I think. That definitely helped in scaling up.

DAN SIMMONS:  We opened our second location. Our downtown location, which is also our largest location, we opened that about three months before, two and a half months before Covid hit. You know, that was a very uncertain time for everybody and a very scary, challenging time. So, you know, growing sort of in the middle of that was definitely challenging, but we also, you know, we were able to streamline a lot of our processes, we were able to really sit down and analyze the business and introduce a lot of more efficiencies into it.

DAN SIMMONS:  I do think, while it was a challenging time that I don't want anybody to relive, we were able to get some positives out of it from a business perspective.

DAN SIMMONS:  We have our four locations in Las Vegas and being stationed in Las Vegas, I don't think there is many more challenges that we will have. We are all here in Las Vegas so, while it is hard and it's adding more work to the plate, it is nice being local here to take care of any issues that could arise.

DAN SIMMONS:  If our staff members doesn't show up for work or something, one of us can easily run over there and cover. San Diego, on the other hand, was a little more challenging in many ways.

DAN SIMMONS:  Number one, like, anytime you go to a new market, a different jurisdiction, a different city, a different state, there's a lot more different laws and regulations you have to learn and sift through and California was definitely challenging. Like, just getting up to speed on all the different laws and everything that we have to learn and be familiar with.

DAN SIMMONS:  So, there were definitely more growing pains there for, you know, the first six to nine months. But once we got familiar with the market and even like the ebbs and flows of business and, you know, like, our busy time here in Las Vegas might be their slow time there and vice versa.

DAN SIMMONS:  Once we kind of got up to speed with all that, we were able to, you know, streamline and introduce all the same efficiencies out there that we learned in Las Vegas over the times. So I would say, you know, now we have been open in San Diego a little over a year and things are cranking out there and it's doing very well.

TOBY FOSTER:  So, I also noticed on your website you do a monthly special that usually the proceeds go to some sort of different organization. Do you want to talk a little bit about that and about that aspect of the business?

DAN SIMMONS:  We like to give back to the community. That's very important to us. So, most months of the year we have a monthly special. We might take a couple of months off. When we run those, a portion of those proceeds will go to a charity who aligns with our values. So, for instance, in September we did a monthly special. We did a Mexican pizza, which is a take on, like, the Taco Bell Mexican pizza and a portion of those proceeds went to the Maui Humane Society, after the Maui fires. That Mexican pizza special was just so wildly popular that we wanted to bring it back.

DAN SIMMONS:  So, we brought it back for a second month. We're doing it still in the month of October for Breast Cancer Awareness month. And we are partnering with, they are called the Red Foundation, and it's a local group here in town who offers, you know, women's services, mammograms, exams to people maybe without insurance or in underserved areas of the city.

TOBY FOSTER:  Great. Since you mentioned Taco Bell, have you tried the Taco Bell vegan nacho cheese yet?

DAN SIMMONS:  I have not tried it. It's getting quite a bit of attention, but I have not tried it yet, but I will.

TOBY FOSTER:  My guest was Dan Simmons. Owner of Tacotarian in Las Vegas, Nevada. For more information and to see some pictures of my lunch, visit

TOBY FOSTER:  Again, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me and, yes, I'm going to get some tacos.

DAN SIMMONS:  Alright, of course. Yes, no problem. Thank you.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Toby Foster is a producer on our show. After a short break we'll hear about a mid west bagel shop serving up a taste of the east coast. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Welcome back to Earth Eats, I'm Kayte Young.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Next up, we have a story from producer Violet Baron about a local shop offering a not so local experience.

VIOLET BARON:  If you go to Colstone Square in Bloomington on a Saturday or Sunday morning-- that's the strip mall of Third Street and Dunn by Campus-- you will see a line of people coming from the last storefront down and they'll probably be sneaking out the door and into the parking lot. And then squeezing past the ones in line, there will be a trail of people coming out the door clutching brown paper bags with warm sandwiches inside. Everyone is chattering, enjoying the weekend and eager to tear into their order.

VIOLET BARON:  That is a common scene in bagel meccas like New York and Chicago, but until recently, not so much here in Bloomington. But now it is. That's thanks to Gables Bagels, a new shop in town that's been basically flooded with business from the moment it opened its doors and the experience is guided by a big personality inside the shop.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  Good morning ladies. Thank you for joining us today. Have you guys been here before?

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  I'm glad one is and one not. That is even better. So, I imagine she brought you in. Thank you. Thank you.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  My name is Ed Schwartzman. I am the very proud owner of a new restaurant here in Bloomington called Gables Bagels. Now, I'm born and raised in New York City. Okay, any time a New Yorker leaves the city, it's usually a good barometer of how they judge a city, wherever they move to. Whether it's Bloomington, San Antonio, it doesn't matter. Why I said San Antonio, I have no idea. But they will say, "Can you get good pizza and can you get good bagels?"

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  And a New York bagel, a New York pizza is just different. As my wife keeps telling me, "Don't say yours are better. It's just that it's a different flavor profile or just a different way of doing things." And so, I've never quite experienced New York pizza outside, or east coast pizza outside of the east coast, and I've never quite experienced a New York bagel outside of the east coast.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  I have lived in Bloomington since about 2008 and I kind of just didn't think I would get what I would call a New York bagel. When Covid broke out-- so my wife and I we own BuffaLouie's-- obviously, Covid affected everybody, some more than others. You know, obviously, people lost their lives, which was horrific, other lost their business, which was tragic and others had their businesses tremendously affected. Fortunately, for us, that was our category.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  Sales were way down. I mean, it was just a downtime in the hospitality industry, for obvious reasons. But the trend, you know, in every tragedy or bad situation there is always opportunity, and the big thing in the restaurant industry during Covid was something called ghost kitchening. And ghost kitchening is simply a term that if you already have a commercial kitchen blessed by the health department, can you come up with another concept, maybe unbeknown to everybody? Maybe, if you have an Italian restaurant, can you make Mexican food and maybe just have it go out either on Uber Eats or you get your own delivery service.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  They don't even need to know that it's coming from your kitchen, or they would be amazed if they knew it was. But just a new concept. Unfortunately, I had a lot of time during Covid and I started noodling around and thinking about things and I found a bakery in New Jersey. Well, I first started getting samples. I said, "Maybe I could open up a bagel shop inside of BuffaLouie's." We have a little storefront that wasn't being used. Maybe we could sell the bagels out of there. And I am not risk averse, but I'm not a big risk taker. My wife is risk averse. So, of course, I need her blessing, because my marriage is far more important than selling bagels. And so, she agreed that, alright we're not going to open up a new store, so ghost kitchening was attractive and I started importing these bagels from New Jersey.

VIOLET BARON:  And this place in New Jersey, your supplier, is there any limit to them? They can just ship out, you know, whatever you need?

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  We have been to the plant and we are a long ways away from ever maxing them out. I don't think we can max them out. They make about two million bagels a week. So, they are designed to do exactly what we need, which is to support a bagel shop that is not baking up from scratch. So, the term in the industry is they are parbaking them. But they bake them within such tight controls and, I mean, when you walk in the plant you can see what the humidity is, the barometric pressure, because baking is a science. It's chemistry. And they factor in humidity, outside temperature, all the factors that go into it which can make a bagel either too flat, too dense, too thin. So, the controls are amazing and we have been more than thrilled with everything that they send us, so it is working.

VIOLET BARON:  Parbaked, according to Ed, means the bagels arrive in his kitchen having already gone through almost all of the steps in the baking process. They've been shaped, proofed, boiled, even seeded and then baked nearly to completion. They are then frozen and shipped to the shop, where the staff finishes the process, so they are freshly baked in house.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  And the proof is in the pudding, because the customer reviews have been five star across the board. And lo and behold-- we were doing out of BuffaLouie's-- we made it very difficult for people to get the bagels. You had to order the day before. You couldn't get individual bagels, minimum of a dozen. You had to pay in advance on line. We sold just bulk cream cheese and bulk bagels. There was no onesie, twosies.

VIOLET BARON:  And was that by design or was that just the nature of it?

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  It was just, I was doing it by myself and so, I can't make the bagel, schmear the bagel and plus, the term we used was "Trayce Jackson." It was under threat of death from my wife. I was not allowed to have any impact. There was to be no trace or Trayce Jackson that I was even there. So, when the staff came in every morning, they would not be able to tell that Ed was doing his bagels in the morning. No Trayce Jackson was the running joke.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  And so, if there's not going to be a trace that I was there, I can't be on line making sandwiches. I was just baking the bagels, putting them in bags, putting the cream cheese in a tub, off you go. And we started doing that. We started that in, I'll say the summer of 2021, and we did that for about six months and after six months there was a measurable buzz.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  Bloomington foodies was really the first one to pick it up. Somebody posted "Who has got the best bagels in town?" And at that point, I wasn't even advertising. I was almost, like, an undergound thing. People would text me, "Is this the bagel guy? Like I've heard you've got really good bagels." And it's like, you know, having a drug dealer but a bagel dealer.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  And so, I was the bagel guy and I was fulfilling orders left and right, but still doing it by myself and they were long days, because of getting up early and then running the chicken wing business. And so, after a lot of consideration and giving it some deep thought, my wife and I decided that we were going to open up a store and we found the location which had its pros and cons, like any location. The thing that make it extremely attractive was there was almost unlimited parking. The thing that made it unattractive was it was small, it did not have a back door for delivery. There is a back door, but it leads to a deck. And so, all deliveries go through the front, which I'm not a big fan of. You know, you'll be sitting in the store and a delivery driver comes in and it just is what it is. I just wish it wasn't that way, but you can't have everything.

VIOLET BARON:  Well, you are kind of bringing New York in there too,right?

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  Correct. The tumult, the chaos,100%.

VIOLET BARON:  You have just seen a delivery truck in the middle of the bike lane and you've got it.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  100% Violet. So, it's funny because you are touching on something. So, the vibe, the energy is a lot of chaos, a lot of noise, we crank the music up. People seem to like it and the feedback has been great. We signed the lease January 1st of 2022, the first day we took over the space, and by about January 5th I was convinced I had made an amazing mistake. That I am in over my head, this wasn't going to work. But, by about February 15th it's like, you know what? I think I can do this.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  Even though my wife and I, we already have a restaurant, we've never opened one. So, when we took over BuffaLouie's we just had to cobble together the money. My wife was already the general manager, so there was no decisions that had to be made except can we get the money together? We knew how much money was going down to the bottom line.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  With the bagel shop, every decision has to be made. What kind of chairs? What colors are the walls? What oven do you want? What napkins? Every single decision had to be made and that's not fun. I don't like making a lot of decisions. But I forced myself to do so and my goal was to be open by graduation, which is in May, and we took over January 1st. Well, May came and went and it was not to be. We ended up opening August 1st. It took us a lot longer than I had hoped.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  We opened very quietly because we weren't quite ready, but I finally said, you know what? We just got to do it. Start disappointing people, but just get the register ringing and lets figure it out, because you can't figure everything out on a drawing board. You've got to literally start making mistakes and you'll learn and you lose and you make mistakes and so, we opened August 1st and we didn't even really announce it. Then again, on Facebook, "I think they're open." We never have a grand opening flier or anything. We never cut a ribbon. We never broke the chain.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  I still think I want to do that, which is kind of dumb now we're open seven months, but the response from the community has been overwhelming. Well the truth is, as much as we like seeing it, we are working on ways to speed that up and I think we are getting a lot better. Where it might be like a five to seven minute, seven to ten, but, you know, in the beginning it was 20 to 30 minutes and I was like, I don't care how good our bagels are-- and all our cream cheeses are made in house-- I said, you know, "They are not going to wait that long." So we are working on processes, we're getting more efficient every day. We are looking, but not hard core looking, but we are looking at a second location.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  And the main reason I'm looking at a second location is that I want a bigger kitchen so that we can do things to support both spaces, because the kitchen we have in there, it's real small. In hindsight, you know, I talked about learning lessons, one of them was I wish we could do it again, because I would have made the kitchen bigger, I would have the space where the staff work bigger. I gave too much space to the customer but, of course, we want the customer to be comfortable.

VIOLET BARON:  You live and learn.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  You live and learn.

VIOLET BARON:  Is the majority of the business through that storefront now or are you still doing orders? You mentioned you had a ten dozen bagel order coming up.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  Right. Well, like this morning we fed the R.O.T.C. It might have been 20 dozen. If I had my druthers, I would rather only do big bulk orders. I would rather you said, "Alright Ed, we have a function, I'm feeding 400 people." Great Violet. I'll bring, you know, 600 bagels, piping hot, fresh out of the oven, tubs of cream cheese, locks, platters if you want, fruit bowls. That is still going to be easier than making 600 individual sandwiches or even 100 individual sandwiches.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  So, we prefer the bulk orders but, unfortunately, we don't always get to decide, you know, how we are going to get to pay the bills each month. So, I would say the onesie, twosies, people walking in and getting a breakfast sandwich, people walking in and getting a bagel with lox, represents 85% of the business and 15 - 20% is the bulk orders. But we're doing more and more with that every day. I have a couple of fraternities and sororities where we deliver them once a week. A couple of doctors offices, once a week, like a route. And that to me is really, I don't want to walk away or poo poo the onesie, twosies, but that is good business, where it is just easy and easy as you get older. Easy is good.

VIOLET BARON:  Easy is good, yes. That's interesting, because it kind of goes back to the ghost kitchen right? Like that was always a good model.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  Correct. But I don't want to say I got greedy, but I realized that if I did spend some money and put more behind it, that there was more to it and the community responded. So, it turns out I was right, which is nice, because that very seldom happens. But the easier model would have been to stick to what I was doing. But then it was more of a hobby than a revenue stream and, probably, if I did the math, we probably broke even. And if I figured out how many hours I spent doing it, you know, I basically just bought myself a job when I was doing the ghost kitchening.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  So, now it's a real thing. We have a real business. We are employing 15 people. We are looking at maybe a second store. There are other people from other communities who are talking about possibly opening up and copying our model, which is very flattering, so we will see where it goes. One day at a time. Right now it's that one store. If I go to my grave with just one bagel store, I'm content with that. But if I go to my grave with 50 stores, I'm content with that too.

VIOLET BARON:  People might be seeing you as a model now. Do you think you'll do consulting or something?

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  Why thank you very much. Don't mind if I do.

VIOLET BARON:  Well you mentioned that.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  I'm not sure what our next move is. The good news is that we have options and even if we do nothing, that's an option. But we are very anxious to add more items to our menu, but with our small kitchen we're very limited. And so, as a result, I know I need a bigger kitchen so I can either, get what's called a commissary kitchen and just make stuff out of the kitchen and then bring it into the shop.

VIOLET BARON:  Not so different from BuffaLouie's right?


VIOLET BARON:  I mean when you were making it there?

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  Correct. But we made it there and sold it there. So, now I'm saying okay, I want more stuff in my kitchen. I want more items to sell at Gables Bagels. Well, I just don't have the capacity to make it or store it. I'm very limited in my freezer space, refrigeration space, so I need a second kitchen. Well, what if that second kitchen is attached to a storefront? So now, not only are we making stuff there, we are generating revenue there. So these are all things that I think about and if I see a "for lease" sign I look and then I have to just try to talk myself out of it. Slow down, slow down, it's okay, just do what you're doing, maybe think in a year. So it is very exciting to think about, but it's also "Discretion is the better part of valor." So, in this case I'm going to try to go slow and, in the worse case, do nothing for another six months.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  But, don't be surprised if next week you read that we're opening up a store, you know, on campus. But we'll see. I don't know, we'll see what the future holds.

VIOLET BARON:  Who are your primary customers? Is it different in the store front versus the order? Is there one group that really comes out or everybody?

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  I would say everybody. Certainly the student body has been, you know, crazy for the bagels. Particularly the east coast kids, because they grew up on this flavor profile. And, not only are they crazy about it, they bring their parents in and the parents, of course, I say, "Is it your first time here?" "Yes." And they say, "My son has been raving about your place, but I'm a little skeptical" And I say, "Hey, this is how I am walking into any bagel shop or pizza shop anywhere." I'm not going to be the typical New Yorker, but I can't believe these bagels or this pizza is going to be any good, and then they try it. So, certainly the students represent a strong percentage, but the locals and then groups, all kinds of groups that I mentioned before-- the hospital, surgery center, doctors offices, insurance agencies, fraternity, sororities. Anybody.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  Well, the other nice thing is because of what we're doing and the word is getting out, it's kind of a new thought for people, because it used to be, "Oh I'm going to a meeting oh I'll bring donuts." Well now, wait a minute, bagels are just, I think, better. It's more of a wow, in my humble opinion and so, I would say that it is a cross section of everybody, but probably the students lead the way.

VIOLET BARON:  You know, you were saying, like, you can't replace yourself. You are a big part of the store and when I come in and when my friends go in they say, you know, it's the guy, he's such a big pat of the experience, right? Because you're chatting everyone up. You know, you are making jokes and stuff, do you think that's sort of a big part of the model for you?

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  Well, you know the old phrase, "Treat others like you would want to be treated" and I enjoy that. Now, not everybody does and, obviously, hopefully, I have learned enough to read people. If I greet them and smile and, you know, they just keep their head down and just "Give me a bagel," fine. I will probably try one time to crack that veneer, but most people, and I mean the majority of people coming up. First of all, the music is pumping, there is just a vibe. In fact, going back to those reviews, read some of those reviews, they comment on the vibe and the energy in the place and that's not just me and I'm also always not there. I mean, our staff plays the role very well. We think it's important. It seems to work for us and also, it is a much better way to pass the day.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  Being friendly, outgoing, getting to know your customers, I can't tell you the amount of people that walk in now and we know their name and boy, does that feel good? They like it, we like it, because, you know, we ask for your name when we take your order, but if you walk through the door and we yell your name, "Violet, welcome back, good to see you."

VIOLET BARON:  You've got regulars, yes.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  Oh we do. Oh boy, do we ever. And that is, to me, the biggest compliment of all, is when people come back again and again and again. So, not only do they like us but we're putting out a consistent product that they know that they're not going to be disappointed. You know, to me serving others, we might not be curing cancer, but I think what we're doing matters. I think, you know, extending a smile to somebody, asking them where they're from, engaging, connecting with them, connecting on some level and, to me, food does that. And, you know, particularly bagels.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  Particularly I love asking where they are from and they say New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey and it's their first time in, you better believe I'm walking over to their table, if they are eating in, "So, how did we do?" And I mean, usually they have got cream cheese coming out of the side of their mouth. They're just nodding their head and going, dude.

VIOLET BARON:  Speechless.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  I can't believe it.

VIOLET BARON:  Chewing on Gables Bagels, I get it. When I moved to the Midwest from Brooklyn four years ago, I knew I would be compromising on some New York favorites. What makes a New York bagel, or in this case Jersey, I guess, it's something in the texture and flavor. They are big, for one, fluffy, but also chewy. Soft but substantial, maybe. They have a good moisture content and if you wrap them in a plastic bag they will coat the inside with humid drops.

VIOLET BARON:  They are not super sweet, but you can taste the gluten as you bite down. What struck me about bagels, like all New York goods, is that they are wrapped in the feeling of being in New York. Crowds, sounds, smells, good and bad together. It's a tough place to live, despite it's pleasures, even for a native like me. I do think Gables gets the formula just about right. Maybe something in the feeling of being in that chaotic shop helps. That sensory overlap, the personality, the vibe. It's an experience.

ED SCHWARTZMAN:  Okay, so the Jewish word is Mitzvah and that means to do a good thing for somebody. Do a Mitzvah. I cannot tell you how many customers have come in and they've tried our whitefish spread, they've tried our smoked salmon spread. We make all our spreads in house. And they literally say, "Ed, you are doing a Mitzvah for the community" and maybe I am. I'm not trying to, you know, make it out to be too much, but it feels good to hear.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Violet Baron is a producer for our show and also for WFIU's Inner States.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Violet is also the local on air announcer for All Things Considered weekday evenings on WFIU in Bloomington.

KAYTE YOUNG: Trees and shrubs are overtaking the remaining North American prairies. Even the continent’s last bastion of tallgrass, the Flint Hills of Kansas, is in trouble. From the podcast Up From Dust, Celia Llopis-Jepsen reports for Harvest Public Media.

CELIA LLOPIS-JEPSEN: If you’re a rancher in the Flint Hills, the way to help the environment is by killing trees. (AMBI: Wind and dickcissels.)
So the Mushrush family has killed maybe 10,000 of them in three years.

DANIEL: Elms are trouble. Eastern red cedars are maybe the worst.

CELIA LLOPIS-JEPSEN:Daniel Mushrush ranches on 15,000 acres in Chase County. This land used to be tree-free. But woody plants are moving in. Alarmingly fast.

DANIEL: So I knew it was happening on my ranch more than what it was, say, 20 years ago.

CELIA LLOPIS-JEPSEN: Some scientists call it the Green Glacier. A blanket of woodland and shrubland unfurling across the center of the country. Making the prairie vanish.
Nippert: It is disappearing right in front of our eyes.
Jesse Nippert is a grassland ecologist at Kansas State University.
About one-third of North America used to be prairie. Most of that is now farms. But the Green Glacier is ravaging what’s left.

NIPPERT: These areas that have turned into juniper forests, we're probably not going to get them back … I think we protect what we can protect. We try and restore the areas that can be restored.
CELIA LLOPIS-JEPSEN: Junipers, called eastern red cedars, are gobbling grassland in Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri.
Wild plum, sumac and dogwood thickets are, too.
And they’re making Great Plains wildfires harder to control.
Troy Mueller is a captain with the Hutchinson Fire Department.

TROY: These cedars are very volatile. When they catch fire, they look like a Roman candle going off. And they will throw hot embers out, and they'll catch in the wind and they'll spread the fire a quarter mile.
CELIA LLOPIS-JEPSEN: Red cedars, wild plum… these plants have been around for ages. Why are they spreading so much now – to the point that scientists say the Great Plains grassland biome is collapsing?
Carbon dioxide is a key reason. More of it in the atmosphere helps woody plants beat out grasses.
The forced removal of Native Americans from most of the Great Plains also paved the path to this Green Glacier.

They burned grasslands regularly. For example to attract bison to the extra nutritious regrowth. The European Americans who took over mostly did not.Woody plants are now so dominant that even ranchers like Mushrush, who do burn their land regularly, struggle to keep them away. Dirac Twidwell is a rangeland ecologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. And he says the ranching industry is in trouble.

He asks people to picture 1 billion pounds of grass rolled into those huge round hay bales.

DIRAC: You could line those up side by side from Kansas City, Missouri, and drive 9 hours seeing nothing but round bales all the way to Denver, Colorado.
CELIA LLOPIS-JEPSEN: That billion pounds you’re picturing – it’s how much more grass the region could grow each year if the Green Glacier hadn’t eaten up so much prairie since the 90s.
Still, Twidwell says it’s possible to save some of the prairie. The federal government has spent millions on tree removal over the years. But kind of triaging here and there.

DIRAC: We just have more and more and more sites to treat over time.
CELIA LLOPIS-JEPSEN: He advises the Natural Resources Conservation Service on its new, more systematic approach. The Great Plains Grassland Initiative.
It’s ramping up in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Dakota, to help ranchers secure bigger and bigger tree-free swaths of prairie.
Ranchers like Daniel Mushrush in the Flint Hills.

After 10,000 felled trees, he’s nowhere near done. Sometimes it takes a whole afternoon to kill a dozen hard-to-reach trees.
MUSHRUSH: It's a lot of old-fashioned chainsaw work. Kinda walking rocky ridges and cutting down trees.
CELIA LLOPIS-JEPSEN:But he’s seeing more progress than ever and it’s a morale boost.
MUSHRUSH: It's not easy work, but it’s worthy work. At least we have a roadmap forward.
For Harvest Public Media, I’m Celia Llopis-Jepsen.


KAYTE YOUNG: This story comes to Harvest Public Media from the Kansas News Service and the “Up From Dust” podcast. Find more at Harvest Public Media dot org Find more at

KAYTE YOUNG:  Hey, before we go, I want to make sure that Earth Eats listeners know about Inner States. It's a radio show and podcast hosted and produced by my friend and colleague Alex Chambers. It's a weekly Arts and Culture show. I've been on Inner States before. I did a story about a kid I know, who makes comics and I interviewed Nate Powell, who is a famous cartoonist and graphic novelist who lives right here in Bloomington.

KAYTE YOUNG:  And Alex made a four part series about the time my cat Rita got lost. Which, of course, ends up being about much more than a lost cat. It's called "The Third Time Rita Left." You can find all four chapters on their podcast feed. Just search for Inter States W.F.I.U wherever you listen to podcasts. And here's a promotional spot for the show, put together by producer Avi Forrest in collaboration with Alex. I hope you'll check it out.

AVI FORREST: I can't believe I'm asking this, but is love real?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Who's Dynamo? Who's Flexo?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Oh so you want to make money.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Why was I training these writers to be critics?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: What are we going to do? Like, people are so mad.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER:Do you have the rights?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Oh was this like fun for you?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: How do we balance making music verses making noise?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Who is the ultimate arbiter of human relations?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Is it like a key word that you play?

ALEX CHAMBERS:  The answers on Inner States, Sundays at noon on W.F.I.U or whenever you want as a podcast.

KAYTE YOUNG: It’s berry season here in the midwestern United States, strawberries are just wrapping up at my place, but the service berries are happening now…and mulberries. Just ahead are the red currants, gooseberries, raspberries (black and red), blueberries and black berries. There’s an Earth Eats video about making jam with berries where the berry flavor really shines through. I make jam with less sugar than traditional recipe and I explain how it’s done in the video. You can watch it, just search for Earth Eats on YouTube and look for the one about strawberry jam. 


KAYTE YOUNG:  That's it for our show this week, thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Oh and don't forget to subscribe to our free monthly news letter, The Earth Eats Digest. You can find a link to sign up for that at

KAYTE YOUNG:  The Earth Eats team includes Eoban Binder, Alexis Carvajal, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Daniella Richardson, Samantha Schemenauer, Payton Whaley and Harvest Public Media. Special thanks this week to Dan Simmons and everyone at Tacotarian, Ed Schwartzman and everyone at Gables Bagels.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Earth Eats is produced and edited by me, Kayte Young. Our theme music is composed by Erin Toby and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from Universal Production Music. Our executive producer is Eric Bolstridge.

Toby Foster with headphones and microphone at an outdoor table looking at Dan Simmons who is gesturing with his hands

Earth Eats producer Toby Foster interviews Dan Simmons at one of Tacotarian's Los Vegas locations. (Ryan Woods)

This week on the show, producer Toby Foster visits with one of the owners of Tacotarian in Los Vegas. They talk about the vision behind this vegan taco spot and explore the possibilities of both fake meats and vegetable-forward options. 

Plus, East Coast-style bagels come to Indiana, and a story from Harvest Public Media about too many trees in all the wrong places. 

overhead view of two paper serving boats with 3 colorful tacos in each boat
Tacotarian offers over over a dozen plant-based tacos, as well as other Mexican dishes, in a bright and comfortable atmosphere (Toby Foster)

One of the things we have been talking about a lot lately here at Earth Eats is the various approaches to plant-based eating, especially now that there are so many different options out there that can vary so much in quality and perhaps even more in price. Kayte has strict criteria for meat consumption and usually eats vegetarian when dining out. She prefers her vegetarian entrees to be vegetable-forward and not mimicking the texture of meat. I have been vegetarian since high school and I am thrilled when I get to order an Impossible Burger at the airport or on a road trip, or even at some of the fast-food chains that have recently started serving them. 

One of my favorite restaurants is Tacotarian in Las Vegas, Nevada. As the name suggests, they are a vegetarian Mexican restaurant that I first visited a few years ago at their location in the downtown Las Vegas arts district. The atmosphere is bright and inviting, with lots of live plants for décor, a small but expertly curated selection of margaritas, and over a dozen plant-based tacos to choose from. They offer something for all types of approaches to plant-based eating, and it’s why I reached out to speak with one of their owners, Dan Simmons, on a recent trip out west. Their menu includes carne asada and al pastor tacos made with homemade seitan, vegetable forward tacos starring mushrooms, potatoes, hibiscus, or plantains, and a “Gabacho” taco which uses Beyond Beef to offer something similar to a ground beef taco you might find at Taco Bell. 

Tacotarian has four owners and co-founders – Dan and his wife Regina Simmons, and another couple, Carlos and Kristen Corral. The idea for the restaurant was born out of a trip the four friends took to Mexico City together. “When we were there,” Dan told me, “We tried a whole bunch of different… vegan food and it all just worked so well.” They brought the flavors back to their hometown of Las Vegas and have since opened four locations there and one in San Diego. 

I spoke with Dan about their approach to plant-based cuisine, why Las Vegas is so more than just celebrity chefs selling thirty-dollar cheeseburgers, and how Tacotarian makes it part of their mission to give back to the community. 

Note: The full name of the organization that Dan mentions towards the end of the interview is the Engelstad Foundation R.E.D. rose program 

Music on this Episode

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode from Universal Production Music.


The Earth Eats’ team includes: Violet Baron, Eoban Binder, Alexis Carvajal, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Daniella Richardson, Samantha Shemenaur, Payton Whaley and Harvest Public Media.

Earth Eats is produced, engineered and edited by Kayte Young. Our executive producer is Eric Bolstridge

Stories On This Episode

Gables Bagels brings East Coast taste to Indiana

Ed Schwartzman holding a platter of bagels and a Gable's Bagels logo next to him

A new little bagel shop with a big personality brings an East Coast vibe to Bloomington.

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About Earth Eats

Harvest Public Media