After more than a decade and a half as a local franchise owner of Taco Del Mar, Frank Schoonover's out.
Despite the hardships it's presented to so many small business owners, the COVID-19 pandemic turned out to be an opportune time for Schoonover to develop his own restaurant. DéGar's Reef Taco, serving coastal-style, Mexican-inspired cuisine in a fast-casual format, is now open.
"We shut Taco Del Mar down for about 41 days as we analyzed what was going on with the stimulus, and got a [Paycheck Protection Program] loan and reopened with our drive-thru and did really well again for about nine weeks or so," Schoonover says. "Then the PPP money had run out, and when it did it only took me five minutes to look at the spreadsheet and see we're still not going to make it."
Having already fulfilled the time commitment on his franchise contract, there were no penalties for Schoonover to ditch the Taco Del Mar brand.
"I spent a couple months figuring out DeGar's. I knew I needed a lot smaller menu, so there's less food waste, and I needed less people but could pay them more," he says. "The menu is concentrated down to flavor contrasts within the ingredients."
DéGar's opened in Taco Del Mar's former location in far north Spokane's Wandermere area last month, and currently is only serving its concise menu of burritos, tacos and burrito bowls through its drive-thru window. Schoonover says he'll spend this winter remodeling the in-person dining area while safely serving customers through takeout-only service.
DéGar's opening menu is sparse, with just nine items, yet the quality of food and the size of each item offers a much better value, Schoonover says.
DeGar's serves three tacos ($5.75-$7.25 each; they're bigger than typical street-style tacos) and three burritos ($8.75-$15.50). Burritos and tacos each have the option of three main fillings: beer-battered cod, chicken or shrimp. There's also the DeGar's Bowl ($13), an all-vegan, protein-packed mix of rice, curried jackfruit, salsa, beans, red cabbage, avocado aioli and roasted baby peppers. Chips as a side ($3.50) come with either house-made tropical salsa or avocado aioli.
"It's key the business model itself is fashioned around the pandemic right now," Schoonover notes. "So in my eyes, it's a very tight menu with the least amount of ingredients possible to save on operations and waste, and that is what I'm trying to do."
The restaurant's name is a nod to Schoonover's 25-year career as a flight engineer in the Navy. During that time, his crew made frequent stops at a small coral atoll in the Indian Ocean called Diego Garcia, and nicknamed DéGar.
"It has this crystal clear aqua-blue lagoon, and you look straight down and see fish and mantas and dolphins," he recalls. "It's just absolutely beautiful, like one of those pictures you see of a faraway beach." ♦
DéGar's Reef Taco • 12501 N. Division St. • Open Mon-Sat noon-7 pm • Facebook: DéGar's Reef Taco