Combining a small business space, long-held (and authentic) family recipes and an inclination toward simplicity, the owners of Ron’s Taco Shop on North Third Street have in just 11 days of operation been surprised by the support they’ve garnered in Marquette.
Having officially opened on Monday, Nov. 11 (at 11:11 a.m.), Ron’s Taco Shop had more business than expected for their first week, according to co-owner Rigel Pihlainen.
“As far as how everyone’s felt about it, from what I’ve heard, everyone has said that Marquette needs this,” Pihlainen said. “There’s nothing like this that stays open late and is just a quick fix with healthy food — or as healthy as tacos can be.
“But we’ve also done zero advertising. We almost thought to ourselves that we may not want to advertise because we’ve just been so busy.”
Ron’s Tacos has been received as especially approachable for students, seeing as they are located close to campus and, as Pihlainen said, have late-night hours. The business is open until 10 p.m. on Sundays, midnight Monday through Wednesday and 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.
“It’s a place where students should be able to study while they eat, and a place where they can do that at hours that work well for them,” NMU student Louis Justman, a secondary education major said. “They’re open pretty early until late on the weekend, so you can go eat tacos, do your homework and chill and get stuff done. It’s a pretty cool atmosphere.”
But the late-night options aren’t just aimed at students, according to Pihlainen.
“There aren’t a lot of restaurants that stay open late,” he said. “But there are people that have late-night shifts — mine workers, hospital shifts — and they’re left with gas station food or fast food. We wanted to do something that was really flexible for everyone, not just college students. We’re for everybody.”
Menu items at Ron’s are, as Pihlainen put it, quite simple. Taco selections include a beef taco, a veggie taco (black bean base) or a walking taco (a bag of Doritos, opened, with the fixings for a taco mixed in with crushed Doritos). They also offer a breakfast burrito, deep-fried ice cream as a side and fish tacos on Fridays. Drinks include Mexican Coke products and Ron’s Tacos very own Dancing Crane coffee blend. And while menu expansions like combo meals aimed at college students and more breakfast options are in the foreseeable future, Pihlainen is sticking to the basics while still in the beginning stages.
“We knew from start to finish that we wanted to be simple,” Pihlainen said. “But this is day nine or 10 and we’ve had a lot of requests for different items, and we’re listening, but there have also been a lot of people that have said, ‘you know what, keep it the way it is.’
“If it expands it gets away from that small feeling that we originally set out to do.”
The “small feeling” that Pihlainen is referring to is well-embodied in the simple interior decor and general vibe of Ron’s Tacos, with signs made of recycled lumber — as well as hand-made chairs and tables constructed by Pihlainen of wood recycled from an old family barn — fill the small building, located directly next to Quickstop Bike Shop on North Third Street.
However, perhaps the most distinct aspect of Ron’s Taco Shop’s simplicity approach is the use of iPad kiosks, which all but replaces the need for an employee to be taking individual orders at the counter. Instead, customers can use the iPad kiosks to select and personalize their items, and can also pay with a card using the kiosks. Pihlainen assures, however, that customers are more than welcome to take their order at the counter if they feel more comfortable doing so. Additionally, customers paying in cash must go to the counter to pay after using the kiosks.
“There’s been a little bit of a learning curve on it,” he said. “We’re trying to make it more user-friendly than it already is.”
Pihlainen attributed the use of the iPad kiosks to the simple convenience of reducing the risk of screwing up customer orders.
“Being in a big city, (a lot of places) have computers to order food, even fast food restaurants” he said. “Usually the No. 1 problem at fast food places is they screw up your order, and there is still some room for error in getting orders wrong, but this way, you are selecting the things you want and you swipe your own card.”
Pihlainen said he expects to talk to NMU about potentially becoming a campus dining option and also expects to get student discounts up in the near future.
Ron’s Taco Shop is located at 1102 North Third Street. Their hours are 11 a.m. to midnight on Mondays; 7 a.m. to midnight on Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Thursdays and Fridays and 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Saturdays. Sunday hours are noon to 10 p.m.