‘We need to grow’ — Tacos Mi Nacho owner ready to expand at new Meriden location

‘We need to grow’ — Tacos Mi Nacho owner ready to expand at new Meriden location

reporter photo

MERIDEN — The owner of Tacos Mi Nacho wants to offer an expanded menu and better sit-down dining at the new, larger location he is proposing to build along Broad Street.

“I have to offer more of a nice place to the people, because this place, it wasn’t meant to be a restaurant,” said Luis Lemus, who opened the popular Mexican eatery 13 years ago in a small plaza at 550 Broad St. “It’s (about) taking care of the customer to make them feel better, too. And if they feel better, I feel better, too, (from) giving something to the customer.”

Lemus has submitted plans to build a new 3,500-square-foot restaurant on a vacant lot at 562 Broad St., right next to his current 1,800-square-foot space.

“This place is too small now for us. We only have six tables, and most of the day they’re full, so we need to grow,” Lemus said of his current location, which can seat about 30 people.

The new location will be able to seat between 80 and 100 people and is expected to include a bar, outdoor seating area, and larger dining area.

With more kitchen and storage space, Lemus says he will be able to expand his menu to include traditional Mexican plates, including fajitas and enchiladas, in addition to his current quick-eat staples like tacos and burritos.

“We’re going to offer the same thing we do here but we’re also going to offer plates,” Lemus said. “We cannot offer that here because we don’t have enough space.”

Lemus intends to continue charging the same prices for current items because he doesn’t want to price-out loyal customers who he says have relied on him for affordable food over the years.

‘I never planned it’

Lemus was a construction worker with no culinary background or experience running a business prior to opening Tacos Mi Nacho, and said he got into the restaurant business “by luck.”

After being laid off from his construction job, Lemus was washing his clothes at the laundromat next door when he noticed the restaurant space, previously occupied by a pizzeria, was empty.

Luis Lemus, owner of Tacos Mi Nacho, talks about expanding the business to an adjacent property on Broad Street in Meriden, Fri., Jan. 10, 2020. Dave Zajac, Record-Journal

“I never planned it, but it came out this way,” said Lemus, whose family works at the restaurant and lives a short drive away, on Collins Avenue.

Over the years, Lemus has developed a loyal customer base, but he said it wasn’t easy introducing Meriden to authentic Mexican food 13 years ago.

"This place is too small now for us. We only have six tables, and most of the day they’re full, so we need to grow."

-Owner Luis Lemus

“Most people in Meriden at that time didn’t know what a taco was. They only knew Taco Bell, so when they tried this, it was so much different than Taco Bell ... and after a while they tried it and they liked it and now we’re busy all the time,” he said.

The growth of the business is a “very encouraging” sign for the city, City Planner Renata Bertotti said.

“It will be a welcome addition to that part to part of Broad Street,” she said about the new restaurant.

Expansion efforts

Lemus began looking for locations to expand years back, but ran into various hurdles before settling on the vacant Broad Street lot.

In 2018, he struck a deal with the city to purchase a city-owned lot at 69 E. Main St., however, an environmental cleanup of the site found contaminated soil, so the project fell through.

Lemus at one point looked into opening a new location on the first floor of the newly-constructed Meriden Commons I mixed-use apartment building downtown, however, he learned that wasn’t possible due to a lack of parking spaces.

He began considering building a new location next to his current site a few years back after the owner of a nearby multi-unit residential home, located in between the restaurant’s current and future site, reached out to Lemus offering the property to him for an expansion.

A house at 554-556 Broad St. in Meriden, Fri., Jan. 10, 2020. The house will be razed to become a parking lot for the new location of Tacos Mi Nacho in the vacant lot next door. Dave Zajac, Record-Journal

Lemus purchased the home, which he plans to raze to make room for parking, and also purchased the adjacent empty lot from the city.

Lemus is now in the process of receiving necessary approvals from the city and hopes to soon begin construction. He expects it to take nine months. At a meeting this week, the Planning Commission gave Lemus feedback on his site plan, however, the commission did not take any action because staff determined Lemus would need to first obtain variances from the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

Bertotti said Lemus will need two variances: one to reduce the number of parking spaces he is required to have based on the footprint of his restaurant and another to reduce the size of the landscape buffer Lemus will need to put in between his restaurant and residential property behind it.

Twitter: @MatthewZabierek