If we’ve learned anything during the pandemic, it’s that Minnesotans’ appetite for tacos is bottomless. Centro, the Northeast Minneapolis taco bar from Jami Olson, just announced an ambitious expansion plan, starting with two new locations this year.
“I had a lot of sleepless nights as I was putting this together. I’m nervous but mostly excited,” Olson told me.
Coming first this summer: Centro Kitchen on Eat Street. “I’m really excited to be on Eat Street. This kitchen just makes so much sense for us,” she said. With a new patio outside for 60-70 people, breakfast tacos and pastries with a riff on the ViV!r concept, and a central headquarters kitchen, Eat Street wasn’t a neighborhood she was looking for, but the old Wedge Table has a large commissary kitchen, which is really the key to the whole overall expansion plan.
“We’re going to build a delivery program and expand our catering program. This will take delivery out of the stores so it doesn’t disrupt the culture of the stores,” she said. Think about the Centro menu: mostly salsas and braised meats. That’s easy to do in a central location and ship out to the restaurants. “All the salsas, all the meats, in each location we could do salads and fresh toppings. Makes it easier to staff, and control consistency and quality,” Olson said.
They may event make their own tortillas down the line. “I’m hoping to have that by 2023. I think for quality, consistency, and it will ultimately be more cost-effective for us if we’re doing it for five stores,” she said.
Five stores? Yes, Northeast Minneapolis stays, plus Eat Street, and then St. Paul in the fall. Olson wouldn’t say exactly where as she’s still negotiating the lease terms, but she’s hoping to be set by the fall. And after that? More stores to come: “[I’m] conservatively thinking five in the next five years,” she said. “I think I could do up to 10, but I don’t want to oversaturate the market. I think Centro is a great concept to plug into other neighborhoods, but you never know. It’s a big risk, but I think it’s one worth taking.”
Olson said the culinary team is in Los Angeles right now, looking at new ideas for the restaurants: chef Jose Alarcon, pastry chef Ngia Xiong, and a new culinary director with experience running a commisary kitchen serving multiple locations.
Olson and her team also will be introducing a new concept, one she wasn’t quite ready to reveal, although this investigative journalist couldn’t help but notice the word “BURGERS” in bold print on the rendering of the Eat Street building.
There’s no doubt that fast-casual and delivery are growing parts of the way many of us eat now, and there’s a lot of room in the market for those types of concepts. Outside of World Street Kitchen and Brasa, I’ve been surprised that we haven’t seen a ton of action in this space. Olson is dreaming big, and if you’re lucky, Centro will open up in your neighborhood.