Over the last decade, chef Victor Albisu has garnered an esteemed reputation in the culinary scene of Washington, DC and Northern Virginia through his Latin American-inspired concepts Del Campo, which has since closed, as well as Poca Madre and Taco Bamba. The latter is perhaps the most well known here in Northern Virginia, as it has grown into a local chain since first opening in 2013, with locations in Falls Church, Vienna, Springfield, Fairfax and Penn Quarter in the District.
Now, as the coronavirus continues to uproot the restaurant industry, Albisu has had to make some changes to operations at his five Taco Bamba locations. While the doors have closed at his DC location, tacos of all styles—born from Albisu’s Cuban and Peruvian roots—continue to be served on our side of the Potomac River, yet in a different format.
As he continues to adapt, Albisu shares insight on his new normal, future ventures and the hope he has in Northern Virginia’s culinary scene. Find highlights from our conversation below.
When news of the outbreak first started to spread, what were your next steps and how did you react?
Our team watched what was happening to restaurants in other cities in anticipation of the changes we would soon need to make here. The health and safety of our staff and guests is always our first priority, so we made sure everyone had access to protective equipment, we closed the dining rooms and moved to carryout only, then we added delivery and curbside pickup.
Talk to me about how your business strategy has changed at Taco Bamba, and what you’ve done to stay connected with the community.
We’ve never done delivery at Taco Bamba, but within the last few weeks it has become an important part of our business. We handle many of the deliveries in-house to keep as many people employed as possible. We are so grateful to have fans all over the DC metro area and we’re using new delivery methods to connect with them. We now have five satellite drop zones for lunch Monday through Friday in Virginia, Maryland and DC. We also schedule neighborhood drops Sunday through Thursday, which has been a great way for communities to feel connected and for us to make deliveries outside our normal delivery zones.
What has the transition been like for you?
It’s been a rollercoaster of ups and downs, but I’m so grateful that sales at our four Virginia locations are almost back to pre-pandemic levels. The ticket machines are constantly pumping out tickets, but there is no one in the restaurants. It’s very surreal.
I understand your new venture, Huevos, was scheduled to open in Ballston this spring. How has COVID-19 impacted those plans?
Construction and opening plans for Huevos are delayed, but we look forward to opening, hopefully, in the next few months. In the meantime, we are testing menu items, so look for Huevos specials at Taco Bamba locations in the coming weeks.
What keeps you hopeful during this time?
The resilience of the restaurant industry and the dedication of our staff. People who work in restaurants persevere through the toughest challenges, and that gives me hope in times like these.
What NoVA restaurants have you been ordering from lately?
Takumi, Clarity, Lebanese Taverna Market and I order lots of meat from Plaza Latina.
Is there anything else you’d like local supporters to know?
How grateful we are for your continued support and your patience as we all navigate new processes and times of uncertainty, as well as your undying enthusiasm for our food and experience. I hope everyone who is enjoying Taco Bamba at home turns up the volume a few extra notches so it feels like you’re eating with us.
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