It is that rarest of problems in this time of tumult: a restaurant too busy to stay open. But that is exactly the problem Dirty Taco + Tequila had at both its Wantagh and Rockville Centre locations, this week, until owner Tom Cataldo Jr. pulled the plug on the whole enterprise.
His phones were ringing off the hook, staff were busy filling takeout orders for the uber-popular eatery’s margaritas and suite of 20-plus tacos, and patrons were lining up 30 to 40 deep to pick them up. That created the very situation that led Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to close New York restaurants in the first place.
“They were loaded up at the front door, people lined up just one foot away from each other, which made no sense," Cataldo said. "My job is to serve you food and follow the guidelines, I’m not here to educate the masses.”
By then, Dirty Taco’s patrons had already become frustrated with the ordering process, the phone so busy Cataldo even gave out his wife's mobile number. Furthermore, takeout business had never been part of the plan. “I don’t believe in tacos for takeout. They don’t travel well or reheat well. You make these great quality tacos, and then they end up upside-down and ice-cold by the time …”
“We tried to keep the staff employed,” Cataldo added sadly. Servers were happy to do deliveries, he said, but that plan hit a snag too after he discovered that his insurance wouldn’t cover deliveries, leaving him with liability exposure.
And so, reluctantly, the message went out over Facebook on Monday: “We have decided to close both locations until the quarantine advisory has been lifted.” It was the same thing that hundreds of island restaurants were posting, although not often for Cataldo's reasons.
“We can’t wait to party again,” he said brightly, identifying one silver lining to this whole mess. The slowdown would give him more time to work on the build out of Dirty Taco’s third location, in Woodbury, which had been slated to open in May.
“It is a party, you know? I really think that once this is all over we will open up again with a bang.”