01 Jun Taylor’s Tacos is Chicago’s First Black-Owned, Woman-Owned, Queer-Owned Taco Shop
By Genet Lakew
One of Taylor Mason’s favorite things about living in Southern California was the availability and ubiquity of delicious street food. At almost any time of the day or night, she could pull over and grab a bite of something good. That, along with the sunny weather, was one of the things she missed most after moving back to her hometown of Chicago. She did find a little taco stand in the city, but Taylor couldn’t get her fix whenever she wanted because their hours were all over the place.
“I love these tacos, but every time I come over here, they’re never here. And I’m like, ‘I think I can make them, and I think I can make them better — kind of put my spin on it,’” Taylor said in an interview with Black Restaurant Week. “And that’s how Taylor’s Tacos was born.”
She now owns and operates Taylor’s Tacos — which serves creative, street-style tacos — alongside her wife, Maya Mason.
The Road to Entrepreneurship
The thing that brought Taylor back to Chicago in the first place was a family emergency -– her mother suffered two brain aneurysms just as Taylor was getting ready to graduate from Pepperdine University, where she attended on a full basketball scholarship. She came back home to help nurse her mom back to health and be there for her family during an incredibly scary time.
Thankfully, her mom survived that chapter. After abandoning plans to do behind-the-camera work in California, Taylor had to figure out her next steps. It took odd jobs, working in the family business teaching youth basketball, and going on too many interviews in search of a stable 9-5 for her to finally leap into entrepreneurship.
“First off, I don’t have enough outfits for this. And second off, this just isn’t meant to be,” she recalled saying to herself during the arduous process. “After that 3rd interview in the 4th round and I didn’t make it, I was just like you know what, God is trying to tell me something. I need to do Taylor’s Tacos.”
Love & Tacos
In 2016, Taylor met Maya.
In 2018, Taylor and Maya officially launched Taylor’s Tacos Chicago, LLC, a pop-up catering company.
In 2021, they’re planning a wedding and gearing up to open their first brick and mortar location this summer. It will be the first Black-owned, female-owned, queer-owned taco shop in Chicago.
“I do not recommend having a wedding and opening a restaurant at the same time,” jokes Taylor.
Their phones are ringing off the hook and things are finally looking up for the Masons after a year of constant pivoting to stay afloat amid a pandemic. The pair just completed a 9-month program where they gained capital, mentorship, and other resources through Allies for Community Business’ Neighborhood Entrepreneurship Lab. And their community has stepped up for them in a major way by continuing to order delivery and catering services.
Community is at the crux of Taylor’s Tacos, a place Taylor hopes can be a safe space for people from LGBT, Black, or other marginalized communities to gather and connect as their full, unapologetic selves while savoring great food.
Taylor’s own journey to showing up as her full authentic self came at age 18, when she came out as a lesbian.
“Once you get that kind of gumption to tell all of your family and friends that you are different in that way was the first hump I had to get over,” Taylor recalls. “It’s something that’s innate. It’s in you. Your sexuality doesn’t define you. It just is a part of who you are. And once I was comfortable with that, then I could just live my life unapologetically.”
Taylor and Maya still have to grapple with backhanded compliments like, “I’m okay with you being gay,” or hesitance from patrons who don’t expect to receive good customer service from a Black establishment.
But owning and operating a Black, women, and queer-owned business is a source of pride for the duo, who hope its very existence and success defy myths and surpass negative expectations.
As for the future of the business, Taylor is crystal clear on the vision.
“I’m putting that onto the universe. We’re selling our business for $500 million. It’s going to happen. I know we can do it and there’ll be a Taylor’s Tacos everywhere.”
The first step in this grand plan? Open locations in Chicago (coming soon), California, Vegas, Phoenix, and Atlanta. Then sell their secret salsa and new tortilla in retail stores. And franchise their unique pop-ups and continue catering.
In the meantime, Taylor and Maya will continue defining each other’s strengths and weaknesses as they build a $500 million empire with the slogan, “A well-balanced diet is a taco in each hand.” Maya is the artistic core and Taylor the logistics pro. Maya practices self-care and Taylor is a workaholic. Maya savors solitude, something she cultivated from her practice as a ballerina, while Taylor is all about the team from years of playing basketball.
“When you’re in a relationship with someone, it should be like an H. You stand alone, they stand alone, and you meet in the middle. Versus a lot of people have A’s, where they’re leaning on each other in order to be able to hold each other up. In the beginning, we were definitely more A’s and now we stand alone, and we meet in the middle,” says Taylor.
Click here to get the recipe for Taylor’s Sweet Poppin’ Potato Tacos.