Austinites are about to get a new place from which to enjoy some of their favorite Southwestern flavors. Eldorado Cafe has partnered with Kitchen United Mix and will open takeout operation Eldorado Taco y Torta Co. on August 8.
Joanna and Joel Fried’s Eldorado Cafe in North Austin featured one of the city’s busiest dining rooms during pre-pandemic times. Familiar and comforting flavors along with familiar and comforting faces made the Southwestern restaurant one of the city’s most popular and landed it a spot in the Top 50 of last year’s Austin360 Dining Guide.
The coronavirus put an end to the room filled with bonhomie and enchiladas. After a month closed to perfect takeout operations, the Frieds reopened Eldorado Cafe for curbside takeout only in April. And while Eldorado has done better than most restaurants that shifted to takeout only, the homegrown establishment has still been losing money. While takeout has been strong, the loss of bar and catering revenue has been impossible to recoup.
After talking to staff, almost all of whom said they’re not familiar working in the dining room, and guests, 90 percent of whom told Joel Fried they were sticking to takeout only, the Frieds realized they’d probably not reopen their restaurant’s dining room this year, as they’re waiting for a vaccine.
Eldorado Taco y Torta Co. will give customers the chance to dine on some of the Cafe’s most popular flavors, like sirloin adovada, lemon chicken and carne guisada, served in tortas, tacos and bowls instead of as entree plates like at the restaurant. Taco y Torta Co. will use the restaurant, located less than a mile from Kitchen United (8023 Burnet Road), as a commissary kitchen now, so diners can expect the exact same guacamole, pico de gallo and other dishes they’ve come to love at the Anderson Lane location.
Eldorado Taco y Torta Co. joins eight other restaurants that utilize the Kitchen United Mix space to prepare food in individual kitchen spaces that all have access to a conveyor belt where the bagged meals are placed and delivered to guests. Joel Fried said the ghost kitchen operation had approached him last fall, but it wasn’t until the pandemic disrupted business that the longtime Austin chef realized how beneficial the business model could be.
"Funny how a pandemic changes things," said Fried, who will continue to operate the original Eldorado Cafe for curbside takeout once the new spot opens.
The chef-operator has helped open about a dozen kitchens during his career and says he found the Kitchen United Mix operation to be "a first-rate facility." Eldorado Taco y Torta Co. will be open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday after its planned August 8 opening, and diners will be able to order via Eldorado Taco y Torta Co.’s website or the Kitchen United website.
Fried says his popular restaurant had spent every penny it had saved after the pandemic hit, but that Payroll Protection Program money helped keep him and many other small businesses afloat. The hope is that the new takeout operation will buoy them further.
"I think this is going to increase our viability," Fried said of his new concept’s ability to keep the mothership alive.
2019 Statesman review: Old Austin finds a new home at Eldorado Cafe
Austin360 Dining Guide Top 50: Eldorado Cafe (#42)