Breakfast Tacos on Two Wheels
On its maiden voyage, the Taco Bike in Nashville caused quite the scene.
Cayla Mackey managed to pull the 200 pound trailer up one of Music City’s steepest hills while, coincidentally, her mom and sister drove past. They couldn’t help but laugh at the sight, Mackey said.
“They drove past me laughing, and I screamed ‘I’m doing it! I’m doing it!’ ” Mackey said.
The young entrepreneur’s can-do attitude is fueling a growing movement of food by bike. Akin to the proliferation of food trucks in major urban areas across the country, more and more food vendors are now taking their goods by bike, rather than truck or brick and mortar outfit.
Taco Bike, though, is a special breed.
The fledgling business has every certification you can think of, mirroring Mackey’s general take on living a conscious life. Taco Bike is, to name a few, a Silver-level Bicycle Friendly Business, as certified by the League of American Bicyclists; the first USDA-certified organic restaurant in the South; and it has a number of other certifications rubber-stamping the business’s commitment to local food and sustainable agriculture.
It began in 2014 when Mackey decided to put all of her passions into one. Her three ingredients?
Bicycling, because it promotes healthy living. Food, because she cares about local farming and food access to all communities. And culture, which creates community and brings people together.
“Taco bike is in line with my passion for social business,” Mackey said.
So in the summer of 2014, Mackey launched a Kickstarter campaign to seed her new business. With the funds she raised by taco-hungry supporters, plus money and wares donated from helpful sponsors, including Surly Bikes, she officially opened for business in Nashville in August.
“Most people thought it was pretty funny,” Mackey said. “I haven’t had anyone honk or seen the same amount of harassment on taco bike than as a regular cyclist.”
“It’s attention-grabbing enough that people think twice about doing something silly like honk,” she added. “It’s great for making bikes and bicycling more visible.”
Mackey operated Taco Bike from August to December, hanging up its wheels once the weather got too cold for the season.
A typical day for Mackey looked like this: Wake up at 3 a.m., go the rented commercial kitchen to prepare the food (which also has an organic food production certification!), cook everything from scratch from 4 to 6 a.m., load up the Taco Bike and hit the road. The day ends around 10 a.m., following the morning rush.
The breakfast tacos were a hit in Nashville. Mackey said, like a lot of roving food outfits, she started out selling from one spot, hoping to make it a habit for customers. After a while, thought, she started letting taco-happy customers know where she would be via social media each morning, switching up her locations. The one constant, though, she said, was ensuring she’d be near a well-traveled roadway. It almost sounds oxymoronic, but hear Mackey out: “I wanted to be a part of people’s routine. I wanted people in cars to have a positive experience with bicyclists,” she said.
And doing it all by bike rather than, say, a truck, had additional advantages. Her up front costs were much fewer, with her bike costing $2,000 compared to a kitchen-ready truck that can be upwards of $100,000.
She also skirted around municipal rules, given the relative newness of such food ventures. Bicycle parking isn’t governed by zoning or permitting — you can set up shop wherever you find shade and an open space, she said.
Now, after many attempts at making black beans from scratch and pulling her 200 lb trailer around Nashville, the Taco Bike is headed to its next chapter.
Mackey, who now works full-time in Providence, Rhode Island, helping other social entrepreneurs like herself, is actively looking for someone in the Providence area to take over Taco Bike. Drop a line if you’re interested: [email protected].
“I think this is an even more ideal place than Nashville to do this,” she said. “I’m determined to find some entrepreneurial chef to take this idea and to grow it. I’d love to see Taco Bike in every city and be something that is scalable for other entrepreneurs to do.”