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Take Out Tuesday Interview - Chaia Tacos

For the week of February 1, Georgetown Take Out Tuesday is featuring Chaia Tacos and Peacock Cafe. In today's post you can read the responses from Bettina Stern, Co-Founder of Chaia Tacos:

Photos courtesy of @ChaiaTacos on Instagram, unless otherwise credited.

1. Tell us about yourself - how did you end up in the food industry?

I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur. But, I wasn’t ready to be an entrepreneur in my twenties - or even in my thirties when I was raising a family. However, I was laying the groundwork for independence. I knew I wanted to return to full-time work, but I wanted to control my fate. If that meant getting up at 5AM and working in a farmstand in blistering heat and frigid cold, it was worth it.

Suzanne Simon & Bettina Stern

I have been a producer, writer, art consultant, photo editor, stylist, and non-profit Board member. My background as a magazine editor, included stints at: Conde Nast Publications, Hearst Magazines and The New York Times Custom Publishing. My first job was working summers in the storefront kitchen of Ina Garten’s The Barefoot Contessa.

Good luck would eventually help me find a friend (and a terrific cook) willing and complementary to first conceptualize and finally to partner in business with. Together we also drummed up at least a couple of business concepts that were ahead of their time, including bringing a mobile food kitchen to DC, a very different place to live that had little or no good food options, particularly healthy ones. But acquiring a permit to vend on a corner was a concept the city wasn’t yet ready for. Within a few years, the first food trucks did begin to appear, but we had already moved on to another clever idea: an online journal on ‘how to cook and what to eat’. It was a food blog before most people knew what a food blog was. We didn’t have the money or the tech savviness and eventually others came along with both of those and we began rethinking the next great idea. But we kept building our connections, teaching cooking classes, and writing for publications.

In 2012, we were asked to participate in and share our idea for a restaurant start-up competition. We had been teaching classes and collaborating with the Freshfarm Markets and chose to write up a short version business plan of what has essentially become Chaia today.

I want to do big things: to build something valuable, to solve a problem, to provide a useful service, and to leave the world a better place. It took awhile for me to become fearless and just go for it.

2. Tell us about why you located your restaurant in Georgetown?

We chose Georgetown as the location for our first restaurant because we felt the neighborhood was lacking a local, healthy, homegrown, affordable food concept. We found the perfect location at 3207 Grace Street, a charming and historic one-way street near the C & O Canal and the newly-renovated waterfront. Georgetown attracts university students, business people, neighborhood residents and tourists alike.

Chaia Tacos at 3207 Grace St

The 1,400 square feet, standalone building with a gambrel roof line had a proud history dating back almost 80 years and three generations. The building was originally constructed, and until we moved in, to operate a family-owned, historic restoration general contractor business and it is one of the few remaining industrial Georgetown buildings, located just in from Wisconsin Ave. We chose to minimalistically decorate the small building with counter ordering and seating to match Chaia’s simple and fresh aesthetic.

3. What does hospitality mean to you?

“Hospitality is hopeful; it’s confident, thoughtful, optimistic, generous, and open-hearted.” - Danny Meyer

Bettina overseeing distribution of Supperclub Dinners

Hospitality is core to who Chaia is. We hire individuals who are as passionate about our tacos as we are and embody generosity, optimism and warmth. We want our customers to be greeted with smiles and friendly ‘hellos’ and ‘how are you doings’ and to always, always feel welcome at Chaia.

Often in the restaurant industry ‘hospitality’ and ‘service’ are used interchangeably, but they are actually two different yet critical components to giving our customers an exceptional experience.

Service - Completing the task at hand in an expected manner

Examples: Entering a customer’s order into the POS correctly

Ensuring that the napkins, forks and beverage lids are fully stocked

Give the customer the correct change

Keeping tables free of trash and wiped down for new customers

Hospitality - How one chooses to complete a task in order to make the customer feel that they had the best experience possible

Examples: Greeting the customer with a smile when they walk through the door

Guiding the customer through the menu to fit their needs

Offering to make a substitution if the customer has a dietary restriction

Working with urgency to minimize a customer’s wait time, even if there is no one else in line

We expect our team to have a genuine interest in whether the customer has enjoyed their experience and to go above and beyond to fix any mistake that may have occurred. We want all of our customers to leave 110% satisfied, with a smile, and telling us that they will return.

4. If you could do anything else, what would you do?

Travel at least half the year!

5. What’s your most memorable meal and why?

For me, the simplest meals are often my favorite: a freshly-caught bluefish grilled during summer in New England, a peanut butter and banana sandwich on home-baked bread -toasted and warm, or slowly, scrambled Saturday morning eggs with fresh-cut garden herbs from our backyard. But, I think my most memorable moment of pure, utter amazement was when I was still quite young - maybe 14: I was on a summer biking trip and we had been pedaling in the hot sun for hours it seemed. We came to the top of the steep road we were climbing to find a small farmstand. I bought myself a big, ripe, just-picked tomato and bit right into it, just like it was a peach. It was warm and oh-so juicy. It was beyond satisfying and delicious. I have never forgotten that moment.


Order Take Out or Delivery from Chaia Tacos through their online menu here & don't forget to mention Take Out Tuesday in your order so we can keep track of our collective impact.

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