HOLTVILLE — A popular eatery, The Taco Shop in downtown Holtville, has served up hearty Mexican and American comfort food for nearly three decades, growing since Missy Hernandez re-acquired the restaurant from other family members.
“I think it has to do with our family
being in Holtville so long (grandparents farmed alfalfa) and the community
being family oriented, because we’ve seen a lot of restaurants come and go,”
said Hernandez current sole owner and also the office manager of Vic’s Air
Conditioning & Electrical Co. “We feel very lucky for being part of the
Holtville business community.”
The restaurant at 404 E. Fifth St. is community focused and employees have all had to weather with crises, including the deaths of family members, yet help each other prevail, Hernandez maintained. It was her parents, Jim and Linda Birger, who started The Taco Shop in 1992 after 40 years of farming.
Hernandez first ran the shop from 1999 to
2004 and then took it over again in 2012. In between it was operated by other
“My mom is still a big part of it and she
stills lives on the farm but now leases out the land. She’ll pick up nacho
cheese or supplies in general for us and helps out when she can,” said
The Taco Shop is woman owned and mostly
woman staffed. Kytzia Guzman, the manager, has worked there for more than a
decade and the rest of the crew is also long-tenured.
“I don’t think I could run the restaurant
without the help of family and friends,” said Hernandez. “A friend, Henry
Nilson, is a farmer I’ve known my whole life just from being in Holtville. He
comes in to the restaurant at 5 a.m. and turns on the grills and gets coffee
going every morning.”
Also lending a hand are Judy and Kayla
Dotson, respectively Hernandez’s aunt and cousin, who make the menus and run
the restaurant website. Middle daughter Brittney, now with a year-and-a-half-old
child of her own, pitches in with bookkeeping chores part-time … “but she’s a
full-time mom,” Hernandez added.
“I wanted to keep the restaurant open to
keep the memory of my dad (who passed away 2003) alive,” said Hernandez. “But
then, pretty much my extended family showed up to help out. My son-in-law, Zach
Bingham, helps with plumbing or leaks. We can always call Vic’s to help with
Catering to Customer Favorites
The restaurant is known for tacos, of
course, and carne or pollo asado, but the most popular is the Gordee, half al
pastor (vegetable) and half carne asada. A Hernandez favorite is chili
rellenos. It is stuffed with cotija cheese, battered and fried in oil.
“I’ve eaten these since I was a kid
because they taste so good,” recalled Hernandez. “Our drinks are popular
because of the crushed ice we fill up the cups with. We have a gallon pump of
cherry syrup so customers can add cherry flavor to their soda.”
The Taco Shop is open from Mondays through
Fridays 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Saturdays from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Breakfast items
may be ordered all day. Breakfast bowls, home fries, scrambled eggs with a
choice of ham, bacon or other meat, are a brisk seller, as well as breakfast
plates with a variety of omelets.
Dinner items can include daily specials
such as menudo, a soup with tripe and hominy; albondigas, meatball soup;
beefsteak ranchero or chicharron. Customers may dine in or take out.
An important tradition for The Taco Shop
is helping out schools, especially the sports teams. It cooperates with C.J.
Johnston, Holtville High School athletic director, to provide certificates for “Viking
The certificates are passed along to not
just to the athletes-of-the week but often to the ones who consistently appear
for practice and make the most effort. The restaurant also donates to Finley Elementary
School for Halloween or the carnival with gift certificates and provides salsa
for barbecues to Holtville Middle School or and other schools in Holtville.
“At Pine School they have a scholarship in
memory of my dad, and the high school has named the football and baseball
fields after my mom and dad because they used to work the concession stand
during the games,” said Hernandez.
Reliable Help Builds on Success
Despite working a full day for Vic’s, on
weekends Hernandez will do shopping for ground beef, cheese, paper trays or
hamburger buns for the restaurant and help Brittney with the bookkeeping. Being
just down the block from Vic’s is an advantage since Hernandez can call in a
lunch order and pick it up for the air conditioning technicians and office
One of her restaurant crew that she can
always rely upon (as well as others) is Arlette Campos, who has worked for
Hernandez for eight years.
“I started as a cashier for six months and
then began cooking, but a year ago they needed help on the counter so I started
serving again,” said Campos. “I like serving more because I can help customers
choose their orders and I can carry their order out to their car if they need
Campos said she has always worked in
restaurants and was a shift leader at the McDonald’s in Nashville for several
years in the early 2000s. She returned to Holtville in 2008 to care for her ill
“I love The Taco Shop,” admitted Campos.
“Missy Hernandez is really good and her mom, Linda, always takes care of what
we need. If we ask for time off, she lets us have family time if we need it.
They are friends with everybody.”
Hernandez praised The Taco Shop staff for
“I think it’s because they’ve become a
part of my life,” she confided. “I’ve been at the restaurant since I was a
sophomore in high school.”
The only thing about the hospitality trade
Hernandez said she finds irksome are the occasional unforeseen emergencies,
such as a water leak discovered by the cleaning crew in the middle of the
“That sort of setback is trying,” she
said. “We’ve had our struggles with business and family-wise, but with the
support of our customers that’s what keeps me going.”