Everyone has a favorite Bodega taco. Perhaps yours is one of the classics, like the al pastor with roasted pork, charred pineapple, and red onion. Maybe you have a preference for the more innovative grilled rib-eye garnished with chimichurri aioli. Or maybe you’re vegan and go for the aguacate with avocado and refried black beans.
Whatever you order, it would probably surprise you to learn that the food for which they’re now renowned was not the initial focus of Bodega Taqueria y Tequila, according to CEO and co-founder Jared Galbut. A partner in Menin Hospitality, he and Keith Menin had originally opened the flagship Bodega in 2015 on South Beach on the west side of Alton Drive, which was under construction at the time, to resemble Radio Lounge. They’d engineered that now-defunct concept in what was then isolated but is currently a restaurant-heavy wedge of South of Fifth. Mimicking that format, Galbut and Menin were primarily focused on the “tequila” aspect of Bodega.
“Tacos were an afterthought,” he says. “I had lived in Chicago operating a hotel and my favorite cuisine was Mexican. There, it’s like Cuban is to South Florida. So, we brought down the idea of some spit-roasted meats and homemade tortillas. And right away we sold four times what we thought we going to do.” In fact, Galbut says, they had to almost immediately build a second kitchen to handle the demand. And the speakeasy, which is accessed by a door labeled “porta potty,” took off the same way. “Our first night had maybe 40 people there. The next night, we had maybe 1000 people,” Galbut recalls.
Still, it was the Fort Lauderdale location, which started construction in early 2020, that really taught them about how they wanted to manage their food quality and menu programming. Because the pandemic forced a renovation halt, they had plenty of time to think about packaging and new models of delivery. Catering, in particular, was an unplanned business segment that exploded then. In fact, while COVID-19 wasn’t anyone’s best-loved time, for Galbut and the Bodega team it was beneficial. “It was a positive for us in the way that the world was changing,” he admits. “Before COVID delivery wasn’t a focus for us. It made us go from 50 to 250 orders per day. Food became very important after that—it was the fastest growing segment of the business—and Fort Lauderdale was the one place where we could toy around with that.”
Now Galbut has different containers sent daily to his home in order to see how leak-proof they are, how they might keep tacos upright, or how they might stand up to delivery on scooters, for example. “Food is going be our double-digit growth vehicle. We’re violently passionate that our quality is good and about improving our ingredients, from the level of proteins and sauces to the fruits and vegetables,” he says.
Another of Galbut’s fervencies? Efficiency. Every time he travels, he obsesses over watching Starbucks in airports, amazed at how they work so effectively. He began implementing design elements and technology from his observations of others’ to improve workflow.
The attention to detail has paid off so well that Fort Lauderdale was followed by three more South Florida locations in Coconut Grove and West Palm Beach in 2021 and 2022. This spring and summer 2023, Galbut and team return to his beloved Chicago with two sites, following it up with three more in South Florida locations, and a Nashville locale in winter 2024. Every spot has already been leased and planned down to the smallest details. Some will be smaller and some larger, and a couple built around sleek Airstream trailers. But wherever they are, all will have that tacos-by-day, speakeasy-by-night vibe that initially put them on the map—and the high-quality, quick-service proficiency that rooted them so steadfastly in the culinary landscape. Bodegataqueria.com.
By Jen Karetnick. Photography by Jason Nuttle.