Family business: East Bay restaurant thriving from new trend of cheesy tacos despite COVID-19

RICHMOND, Calif. (KGO) -- Owning a restaurant during a pandemic isn't easy, but that wasn't going to stop an East Bay family from achieving their dreams of owning one.

El Garage restaurant opened their long-anticipated brick-and-mortar location in July in the heart of Richmond. Inspired by a post on Instagram, Viviana Montano and her sister came up with the idea to create their own quesabirria tacos.

What is a quesabirria? It is best described as a quesadilla filled with mozzarella cheese and traditional Mexican beef stew known as birria, all folded into a single taco. Cilantro, onions and salsa toppings are optional but bring out the flavors of the birria. To complete the quesabirria experience, many consumers dip the cheesy taco into the broth from the birria known as consome.

After several attempts at perfecting their own quesabirria, El Garage opened as a pop-up in February of 2019. "Me and my sister used to live in a converted garage," said Viviana Montano, co-owner of El Garage."We thought about selling food and we said why don't we sell out of our home. The way that we came about the quesabirria taco, she (my sister) was on Instagram and my mom makes the best birria so we came up with this taco that we seen and we built it out together."

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At the first pop-up, the Montano sisters and mother whipped up six pounds of birria and sold out within the first hour. Today, they are serving up close to a thousand pounds of birria per weekend.

To help spread the word, Viviana created a mouth-watering Instagram page that has accumulated tens-of thousands of loyal quesabirria followers.

"Right now, social media is still one of our biggest ways of bringing in customers," said Montano. "We have a lot of regulars and that's where we have seen the growth is just kinda like word-of-mouth."

Before COVID-19, the wait times for the quesabirria were up to two hours but were known to be worth the wait. "When we started this I was like, we have to make this a great experience," said Montano. "It was such a cool place to go to because the music was blasting and if you didn't know a person that was in line with you, you were going to get to know them. It was like a big backyard party."

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Word about the pop-up spread rapidly but was shutdown by the health department after not acquiring the proper permits. According to Eater SF, El Garage had to pivot from garage pop-ups and to selling quesabirria tacos at local breweries.

If the pop-up didn't have their fair share of challenges, their dreams of owning a restaurant was put on hold when the shelter-in-place order came into effect. After three months of waiting, El Garage was able to open their restaurant for pre-orders in July.

El Garage starts taking pre-orders for takeout only on Wednesdays for the upcoming weekend. Make sure to put in your orders early, due to their popularity the restaurant has sold out of quesabirria tacos the next day. To keep up with the overwhelming amount of orders, the Montano family quit their jobs to help with the new flourishing family business.

"People are pre-ordering so we are selling the food before the day even gets here," said Montano. "It's still non-stop work just like in the pop-ups because it is taco, after taco, after taco. It's been busy since we've opened. It's been great."

The Montano family hopes to one day fill their restaurant with people and re-create the same atmosphere as the El Garage pop-ups by adding an arcade and taproom.

For more information, visit El Garage website.

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