After moving back home to Chicago from California, Taylor Mason missed Los Angeles’ ubiquitous street tacos. She’d get an occasional whiff thanks to a guy who sporadically set up a grill on a Wicker Park sidewalk, drawing a line of hungry patrons that stretched down the block.
“It was hot of the plancha, right into your plate,” Mason said. “You could see the food being cooked right in front of you.”
That craving inspired Mason to launch Taylor’s Tacos, which she runs with her wife, Maya Mason. The business, an alum of the Polsky Center’s Small Business Growth Program, includes a catering service, taco truck, and event space. But it also has a broader mission.
Born and raised on Chicago’s West Side, Mason understands what it means to live in a food desert. As she grows her taco business, she hopes to open her own catering and retail space in the community she still calls home.
“I’ve got to make the West Side great again,” said Mason, who lives in Douglas Park.
Mason wouldn’t have predicted a career in tacos when she first moved to California, on a full basketball scholarship to Pepperdine University. She studied broadcast journalism at the Malibu school and aspired to work behind the camera in Hollywood.
But as her college graduation neared in 2010, her mom suffered back-to-back brain aneurysms (she’s OK now). At her father’s request, Mason moved home to Chicago, passing up a job she had lined up on the West Coast.
“That was the hardest but easiest decision I ever had to make,” Mason said.
She worked at her family’s business, NBU Athletics, an organization that teaches basketball fundamentals to youth, as director of operations for five years. But she wasn’t a fan of the family business dynamics and wanted something different.
As she worked odd jobs – a gym teacher, a basketball coach — Mason kept going back to her longtime love of bringing people together.
She hosted a party and made tacos, inspired by the Wicker Park street vendor. They were a hit, and over the next two years she worked on perfecting her recipe for “street tacos with a whole lot of soul.”
This story was first published by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.