Since unlocking doors to his eatery in 2013, Hoppen has regularly heeded calls for help from nonprofits and charities. And, amid the current crisis he has amped up his attempts to make a difference.
In mid-March, he started a Pay What You Can initiative aimed at helping feed those with limited means to pay for a meal. “If you are in need of a full meal, come to Taqueria del Mar and pay what you can,” he said when he announced the program. “We would also like to offer those that can pay it forward the chance to give back. While some will have needs, others will have abundance.”
The Burrito de Pollo Tamarindo is a popular seller at Taqueria del Mar. CONTRIBUTED BY LIGAYA FIGUERAS
While the program was initiated as a way to help some of the employees that Hoppen had laid off, it has since been expanded to include anyone. “If you need food, come here,” Hoppen said. “Anybody who needs to eat can come by.”
» DINING TEAM: How coronavirus will change dining coverage
In addition, when Hoppen and his team aren’t scrambling to fill takeout orders, they have been packaging up tacos and other menu items and donating those to everyone from heathcare workers to senior citizens. “We took 50 tacos to an emergency room in Lawrenceville last night,” said Hoppen during a phone interview Sunday. “We’ve been taking meals to shut-in elderly people.”
Taqueria has numerous safety protocols in effect. Customers coming to pick up an order will find hand sanitizer at the entrance. The restaurant will also provide curbside takeout to patrons upon request entrance. CONTRIBUTED BY LIGAYA FIGUERAS
To better serve the many families who regularly patronize the restaurant, Hoppen’s kitchen team is preparing take-and-bake dishes. Available in two sizes – large serves 6-8, small serves 3-4, the dishes are not necessarily Mexican, but rather “comfort-style” casserole dishes like chicken tetrazzini. “We’ve had a good response. People like the idea of a meal in one package and to feed multiple people out of one pan,” Hoppen said.
Sales aren’t the same as before, but they are better than what Hoppen expected. “Business is down about 30-40%. I was anticipating 60-80%. That has certainly been a blessing.”
The 90-seat dining room at Taqueria del Mar has become a storage area for the products it needs to provide delivery and takeout orders to customers. CONTRIBUTED BY LIGAYA FIGUERAS
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Hoppen employed 18 full-time and 10 part-time workers. Now, he’s down to an eight-person team that is slammed, especially during peak meal times. Takeout used to make up 5-7% of the restaurant’s business. Now, it’s all takeout. “Taking orders on the phone or online at a dramatic pace as everyone wants to order at the same time - that has been a challenge,” he said.
Still, he’s grateful. “We are getting great support. Patrons have been generous with the servers. It’s certainly been heartwarming.”
A take-out order awaits pick up. CONTRIBUTED BY LIGAYA FIGUERAS
TAQUERIA DEL MAR
Menu: Full menu
What's new: Take and Bake: limited, rotating selection of casserole-style dishes (Large - $39, Small – 19) Must place order for take and bake via phone; Pay What You Can (free or reduced-cost meal for those who cannot afford to pay full price, option to add more to bill for those who can afford to pay extra)
Alcohol: Bottled beer and wine. Call for details.
What I ordered: Large take-and-bake dish (chicken tetrazzini), Burrito de Pollo Tamarindo, Tres Amigos Enchiladas, Enchilada de Mar with smoked brisket and citrus cream sauce
Service options: Carryout (curbside upon request) and delivery. Delivery available through Uber Eats. Restaurant also has its own drivers who deliver within 5 miles of the restaurant. Place orders via phone or through the Taqueria del Mar app, download from any app store.
Safety protocols: Hand sanitizer at entrance. All social distancing protocol in effect. Kitchen staff limited to 2-3 people who are maintaining six-foot separation. "We are insanely clean," said Hoppen. "Washing hands, sterilizing tools and equipment. We have certainly increased the frequency of all that we do (to stay clean)."
Address: 5075 Peachtree Parkway N.W., Peachtree Corners
Hours: noon-8 p.m. daily
Read the AJC Fall Dining Guide: The Noodle Edition
Read more stories like this by liking Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebook, following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter and @ajcdining on Instagram.