Walk into Soul Taco and you’re greeted with bright splashes of yellow, a playlist of 90s hip hop and R&B, and a friendly hello from behind the counter. Owner Trey Owens envisioned a welcoming space when he opened the restaurant last October with business partners Nar Hovnanian and Ari Augenbaum.
On this particular Wednesday afternoon, friends from high school visit Trey and order the California-inspired Latin and Southern cuisine for which the restaurant has quickly become known. “This food is better than sex,” one friend shouts.
Soul Taco’s menu flows with an infusion of creativity with dishes like hush puppy nachos, fried catfish tacos, and mac ‘n cheese quesadillas. Right now, Trey sips on a Jose Palmer, his playful twist of house-made limeade and sweet tea. “This is quintessential American food all mixed up,” he says.
Last year, the opportunity to open Soul Taco was too good to pass up for the longtime food and beverage pro. The team conceptualized and built the restaurant in just three months. And you’ll often find Trey in the kitchen. He learned those skills from his grandmother -- a woman, he says, who never used a measuring cup.
Trey now lives three blocks from the Jackson Ward restaurant and feels a responsibility to pay homage to the historically African American neighborhood once known as Black Wall Street and the Harlem of the South. “Amazing things happened here. This is where Maggie Walker made something out of nothing,” Trey says.
“Jackson Ward wasn't necessarily a very affluent area, but it was an area of blue collar workers. With that in mind, I wanted Soul Taco to be an approachable space where someone can have a quick, quality meal. Nothing on the menu is over $5.”
With standing room only many days, Trey has been pleasantly surprised by the rapid success of Soul Taco. “When you tell people you're going to open a restaurant, everyone wants to introduce you to the idea of failure before cheering you on,” he says.
As a business owner who happens to be gay, he wants to show people you don’t have to conform to a certain mold to be successful. “You can do it your way.”
Growing up in Richmond, he has seen the city become bigger, and more accepting. “I’m also hopeful the LGBTQ scene continues to become more accepting too.”
At another table, former coworkers have dropped in for a late lunch. You can tell Trey is well-loved, and it goes without saying, he’s succeeded in creating that welcoming environment he hoped for.
“I've been meeting a lot of people. People who come in the restaurant I’ve never met will tell me how much they want to see this place grow and expand.” he says. “It's been 100% worth it.”
Soul Taco is located at 321 N 2nd St, Richmond, VA. For more information, visit https://www.soultacorva.com.