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Movers and Shakers: Yabo’s Tacos

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for content and space.

The first thing you might notice at a Yabo’s Tacos is the music (rock ’n’ roll), and then the TVs (large and everywhere). This is, in other words, not your average taqueria. It’s a sports bar, minus the fried food, a taqueria draped with quality.

That latter detail hits you as you go over the beer selection — nearly exclusively craft. And then the salsa, guacamole and margaritas arrive, and the same attention to taste, quality and freshness pops like a jalepeno as you decide between the Grilled Cuban and the Philly cheesesteak tacos. In other words: This is different, and I love it.

To know Yabo’s Tacos partner Scott Boles is to not be surprised by any of this.

Boles grew up in Lima, Ohio, and after impressing his high school Home Ec teacher with a seven-layer bavarian mocha torte (when the assignment was a simple sponge cake), he quickly found himself a new pen pal: John F. Kennedy’s chef, James Berrini. This relationship soon led to gigs at five-star restaurants throughout New England, which turned into jobs creating and/or running restaurants for the Breckenridge Ski Resort and Disney, among others.

When he returned to Ohio in 1995, he was out of the food service industry altogether, until a buddy convinced him to give it another shot. A few business plans later, and we’re all better off with Yabo’s in our bellies.

q: How did Yabo’s come about?

I was traveling to the Southwest United States a lot, eating at taquerias, and I loved it. But they all played Mariachi music and it was too Mexican. I was like, what’s wrong with playing rock ’n’ roll and showing sports?

At the same time, I asked my wife to go to a sports bar to watch the Browns play. The Browns are terrible, so by the end of the season, they’re never on TV. The only way to watch them is at a sports bar. So she asked, “Where do you want to go?” And I was like, “Well, B-Dubs, Rooster’s, Winking Lizard’s, Average Joe’s — you name it.” And she says, “Ugh. Fried. Fried. Fried. Fried.”

I thought, hmm. Opportunity. I took what I like about taquerias and added a sports bar. No wings, no burgers, no pizza, no fried stuff (for the most part).

q: why do you think you’ve been successful in these suburban neighborhood settings?

One, everything we do is from scratch. We don’t open a box and drop it in the fryer. We have a reach-in small freezer, with Gulf shrimp, frozen corn, ice cream and margaritas.

Our produce is local. My cooks actually cook. They have knife skills. I’m still old school in my technique. It’s just that we do it affordably. You can have a few beers, two people, and be far under $40 here unless you’re going crazy on the crafts.

Our mantra of everything fresh and from scratch carries over into our margaritas, too. There’s no sour mixes, no premade things and nothing with any chemical we can’t pronounce. It’s got four components: tequila — really good tequila, El Jimador Reposado — the best triple sec that we can buy, which is Mr. Boston, fresh-squeezed lime juice and 100 % organic agave nectar.

We do doubles in the pint glass, but the normal glass is a 9-ounce rocks glass. People are used to the giant glasses, which are filled with watered-down sour mix that’s like Mountain Dew. You don’t need as much with ours. It’s almost three shots in one of our small margaritas, so it’s very strong.

The other part is our beer list, and this started from day one. I like good craft beers. To me everything else is a clear beer. So we started from day one with a daily rotating retro beer, and, of course, we have Miller Lite, Bud Light, Corona Light and Corona in the bottle.

q: you’ve alluded to this already with the focus on fresh, quality ingredients, but where do you think some of your more high-end experience carries over into yabo’s?

I want to know where my food comes from. I don’t want it pre-breaded, pre-made in Arkansas or Chicago or somewhere. I want to know it was done in-house. Our salsa is done daily; our guac a few times a day. That guarantees the freshness that you taste immediately.

We attempted to make a great salsa many times, but it wasn’t until we were exposed to Stanislaus by RDP. They’re the industry standard for the best tomatoes in the world, and they’re guaranteed in the can three hours after they’re picked. To me, that’s fresher than the actual tomatoes in my walk-in, and you can taste that.

Our sofrito, which is an onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes base that we use for our rice, is made with those tomatoes as well. It makes it so much better, and we do the same thing with our rojo sauces, which is our Mexican marinara that we put over our burritos.

q: what made you choose rdp as your food provider?

We were using Sysco, and we originally used GFS, and they were all fine, they did a good job — Sysco was doing a terrific job. I frankly told RDP President Mark Mizer, “You’re not going to be able to get my business.”

But he thought out of the box. He knew we had proprietary stuff, like we make our own sauces. So Mark said, “How about if I stock this and you don’t have to get in big things of this every time?” And we said, “Yeah, that’s awesome.” Because we would have to buy $800 of sauces, so for us, it’s much more convenient that we’re not blowing up our food costs on the weeks we don’t have to buy our hot sauce.

q: can you recall another time rdp went above and beyond for you?

They’re constantly striving to meet our needs. For instance, we’re going with a new point of sales system in all the stores. It’s called Toast, and Toast has a new inventory management system that allows us to create categories. RDP went in and recreated all the categories for me, so it made it much easier for us to take inventory.

q: finally, anything else new with yabo’s?

We’re working on opening in Athens at OU, hopefully late fall, maybe January next year.

We changed the menu recently, added a few fun items. We have a few more specialty tacos, like the Cuban, which is just like a Cuban sandwich with pork, ham, and Swiss, and we grill it and serve it with a pickle spear and Mojo sauce.

We’ve also got a chicken bacon ranch taco, a steak fajita taco, and a Philly cheesesteak taco. The funny thing is, people will text or call me and they’ll say, “I’m at so-and-so’s having a Philly cheesesteak and I’m coveting a Philly cheesesteak taco because yours is so good.” We also do gyro tacos and a Don Yabo taco, which is an Italian sub taco.

The beauty is it’s not all bread, so what’s left is what you like most about your sandwich: the actual sandwich.

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