As any Washington sports fan knows by now, the game day experience at FedExField has changed, part of a major rebrand following team’s name change and a series of less-than-stellar headlines for the Burgundy and Gold.
While cheerleaders on the sidelines being replaced by a dance squad might not be hard to understand, the fact that the rebrand has led to the widespread appearance of bright orange tacos in the stadium might be a little more surprising (especially because FedExField has never had tacos before). But, if you stop by the little taco stand to pick one up, it’s a much bigger boost to your game day experience than a back-flipping dancer with a T-shirt cannon.
Casa de Avila Tacos is a Leesburg-based taco truck and ghost kitchen. Their claim to fame is their quesatacos made with mozzarella and birria and inspired by the owners’ Guadalajaran and West Coast background. The tacos naturally turn bright orange from their own oils in the cooking process, which makes the dish broadly popular with Instagram foodies. Casa de Avila opened as an Instagram-driven hankering for birria tacos was taking off.
“Over here in the U.S., it’s been this crazy fad, where people love to dip their tacos in the birria. But it’s just what we eat on a regular basis,” co-owner Abraham Avila says. “I don’t know what the big deal is; it’s normal for us.” Modern foodie culture, for better or worse, has made marketers of even the humblest hole-in-the-wall operator or food truck chef. Food shots on social have been receiving eye rolls for about fifteen years at this point, but it’s remained a constant in the food industry: No matter the size of your operation, if you can make a pretty plate, you can reel in a crowd. Whether the food tastes good, and whether diners will put down their phone long enough to actually taste the food, are two questions perhaps better left unexamined if you want to maintain a thriving small business.
At Casa de Avila, Avila, fortunately, cares most that the tacos are tasty. He’s serious about proving that Guadalarajan-inspired food can be as great on the East Coast as the West Coast, with homegrown flavors hard to get in the Mid-Atlantic.
“These are the foods that we grew up with, and we want to share with you our experience,” Avila says. “So when you bite into our food, if you’re from Mexico, or you’ve been to Mexico and had tacos, it just that first bite takes you right back.”
And even in an era of ghost kitchens, he cares about the customer’s full experience. The restaurant is family run, a project proposed by Avila’s wife Stephanie as a second career. Avila’s mother and sister have worked in the kitchen since the beginning. After his grandfather’s passing, Avila brought his grandmother up from Mexico last summer to visit, and when his grandmother saw the name of the business, it brought her to tears that his name would live on.
“So for us, family is everything, and we treat our customers the same,” Avila says.
The whole approach has resulted in the business taking a much bigger stage.
Over the summer, Casa de Avila beat out some 90 other contestants in the Washington Football Team’s Flavors of the DMV competition to take up residence at FedExField as the stadium’s newest concession stand. On the application, Avila emphasized that his business was the kind that WFT needs.
“[The DMV] is a hub, people from all over, throughout the country and the world,” Avila says. “And football in particular has started to cross over into the Hispanic community, and games are now being broadcasted in Spanish. So in the application I put that the Washington Football Team, they’re rebranding themselves, and they want to implement the fans as part of their family. So one of the best things to do is have good Hispanic food people could recognize at the stadium of the team they’re cheering for.”
After a tasting against 20 other finalists, Avila landed the space. The new spot puts them under some very bright lights.
“It’s a higher platform,” Avila says. “People are like, ‘Wow, you’re exploding.'”
Every game day, three hours before game time, the staff at Casa de Avila in FedExField begin prepping and doling out tacos. With a 45 second turnaround time, the tacos go from flat top to trays and right to the consumer. Avila says they’re a hot commodity, nearly running out on the first game of the season, and with several.
For longtime fans raising their eyebrows at the word “concession stand,” Avila maintains that Casa de Avila will maintain the same quality with their tacos at the stadium as anywhere else. They’re limiting the menu to three taco options–their popular beef, carnitas, and a rotating special–so they can concentrate their efforts.
It’s popular enough that they nearly ran out of food in their first go around, on the WFT’s opening game. Fans came back for seconds.
“People would also, on the way out, would stop and say ‘Hey, man, this is the best taco we’ve had,” Avila says.
It’s been a positive enough reaction that Avila’s considering new opportunities as a result.
“A year ago, if you asked me if I would see myself in sports venues, concession stands, I probably wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to answer that. And so this is a huge opportunity,” Avila says. “We can now start talking about hiring more people, people that are going to be dedicated to our catering and restaurant services, and then people dedicated to this sports venue. Our goal is, hopefully, everything goes well here, and we get noticed at other stadiums and they would like to invite us.”
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