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Seeing his cart overturned in the middle of what was then called Lee Highway in Rosslyn, with eggs and taco shells spilling onto the street, Osiris Hoil was about to give up on his dream.
The District Taco co-founder, who in 2011 was just a simple taco cart, called on his neighbor and business partner Marc Wallace for help. He came to Hoil’s rescue with his tools, his skill, and his resolve to fix the wagon’s broken hitch.
“I’m so stressed, so tired,” Hoil said of the story of the returned taco cart at ARLnow. “But then Mark said, ‘Don’t worry man, one day we’ll laugh about it. “”
Sure enough, over a decade later, Hoil and Wallace are indeed laughing at the memory of their overturned taco cart, an incident that was covered by ARLnow at the time (and followed shortly after by another ranger). Rosslyn mud).
Today, the two Arlington-based entrepreneurs just sold their 10 millionth taco and are set to franchise the fast-casual Mexican restaurant that started as a taco cart on the streets of Rosslyn (then Crystal City) in 2009.
As Hoil and Wallace explain, the idea for District Taco and their partnership was born of two neighbors drinking beers on each other and lamenting the economic downturn.
It was 2008 and both were living near Yorktown High School at the time. Wallace had just sold his technology company and often discussed with Hoil the difficulties of the construction sector, the industry in which Hoil worked at the time. They also crushed Hoil’s homemade fries and salsas, made from traditional recipes his mother used in Yucatan, Mexico.
With the two at transition points in their careers – Hoil was laid off during the 2008 financial crisis – they decided to partner up and open a Mexican food truck, at a time when these were still a little a novelty. But a real food truck turned out to be too expensive.
“So we had a cart that we pulled behind a van,” Wallace said. “A food truck is $100,000, so we went with a cart.”
They obtained the necessary permits from Arlington County (DC initially denied their request) and set up their cart near the building that houses WJLA in Rosslyn.
Within months, breakfast tacos have become District Taco’s calling card.
They also had the help of local notables. WJLA meteorologist Brian van de Graaff had a few breakfast tacos before work and talked about it on air, Wallace recalled.
“Before going on the news, he was going downstairs to get his tacos,” he said. “It was great communication for us.”
ARLnow also wrote about the popular Rosslyn food cart several times during those early years.
In late 2010, Hoil and Wallace opened their first brick-and-mortar location at 5723 Lee Highway (now Langston Blvd), near their home. The original Taco District is still around today.
Despite this initial success, both say it was not an easy road. Beyond an overturned taco cart, there were also lean times, delays, and near-disasters.
“If I told you how many times I wanted to quit, you wouldn’t believe it,” Hoil said. “I was working so many hours, I wasn’t making any money…and one time I almost burned down the kitchen in my house.”
What led them to success was their confidence in their product. All recipes are from or inspired by Hoil’s mother – and the service was modeled after her too.
“My mother’s recipes and my family’s traditional recipes. But that’s also the District Taco vibe, that’s also what you’ll get in Yucatan,” Hoil said. “The friendliness of the people and the way we prepare the food in front of you is what you will experience in Mexico.”
Wallace also noted that when District Taco started, there were few local chains serving authentic Mexican food in a fast casual setting.
It took nearly 15 years to sit on each other’s porches and come up with an idea for a taco cart, but the future is now for District Taco.
There are currently 14 District Taco locations, including two in Arlington (Yorktown plus Rosslyn). All but one of the locations are in the DC area, but the hope is to change that with the franchise.
For now, the plan is to expand its presence in Northern Virginia, starting with its two franchise restaurants in Springfield and McLean. The goal is to open both by the end of the year. From there, the mission is to go further.
“We’re looking to expand into Pennsylvania, Delaware…then the Midwest,” Wallace said.
When asked if the international is also the goal, they both answer absolutely. But for this Arlington-based company that started out as a small taco cart in Rosslyn, they know their focus has to be on the here and now.
“The sky’s the limit. We want to go everywhere,” Hoil said. “But we have to take it one taco at a time.”