Atlanta Orders In: After close call, Cumming’s Lake Burrito now on steady ground

At Lake Burrito in Cumming, the portions are generous and the free toppings plentiful. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
Caption
At Lake Burrito in Cumming, the portions are generous and the free toppings plentiful. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

It would be easy to zip by Lake Burrito, a fast-casual Mexican restaurant that anchors one corner of an unremarkable Cumming strip mall near Lake Lanier. Yet, there’s something about the table of tiny cacti on the front sidewalk and the sign behind it — “Mucho Good Vibes Y’all” — that makes you want to put on the brakes.

Although Lake Burrito’s owners almost lost their shirts at the beginning of the pandemic, the charming, takeout-only hole in the wall hasn’t lost its spunk.

It’s hard to ooze positivity, though, when guests can’t come inside. “One of the big things we need the most is to have that connection with our friends,” said co-owner Paris Retana, 38, who was born in Mexico City, but finished high school in Gainesville.

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Lake Burrito in Cumming. 
Courtesy of Wendell Brock
Caption
Lake Burrito in Cumming. Courtesy of Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Everything about Retana’s résumé indicates a chef with passion and ambition.

As a teen, he worked in his older brother Angel’s Gainesville taco trailer. Angel always talked about going to culinary school, but never realized his dream.

Paris, however, got into the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, took time off to explore Europe (during which he cooked at the Michelin one-star Kokotxa in Spain), and returned to New York, where he was the first CIA student to intern at the Chipotle chain, for whom he later worked.

After helping build a successful taco truck company in New Jersey, he was summoned home to help his twin sisters, Mildred and Alicia, rebrand their moribund Mestizo Southwest Grill in Cumming. (He also partnered with his wife, Laura, a fellow CIA grad, to open a successful boutique candy store, Malvi Marshmallow Confections, next door.)

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Available for takeout from Lake Burrito are (from top) a grilled chicken bowl, chicken tinga and fish tacos, and nachos with ground beef. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
Caption
Available for takeout from Lake Burrito are (from top) a grilled chicken bowl, chicken tinga and fish tacos, and nachos with ground beef. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Lake Burrito, which feels a bit like a homespun version of Chipotle with a beach vibe, was unveiled in 2016. Though customers at first resisted the change, the Retanas won them over with their giant burritos, fish tacos, fresh guac and friendly demeanor. Sure, lunch and dinner offerings were pretty straightforward, but Paris took pride in making more creative breakfasts, with local eggs, Benton’s bacon and East Pole coffee.

Until the pandemic, the siblings were poised to open a second store.

Alicia, Mildred and Paris Retana are the owners of Lake Burrito in Cumming. CONTRIBUTED BY LAKE BURRITO
Caption
Alicia, Mildred and Paris Retana are the owners of Lake Burrito in Cumming. CONTRIBUTED BY LAKE BURRITO

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

After closing Lake Burrito for about three weeks, the restaurant pivoted to takeout only, dropped breakfast, and furloughed its employees. Only the siblings remained.

“We had zero to do,” Paris recalled. “It was tough, but we were trying to survive.”

Meanwhile, at Socks’ Love Barbecue down the road, owner Steven Hartsock heard his colleagues (whom he’d never met) were in trouble. He posted a video, beseeching the community to support Lake Burrito, and pledging a day’s profits from Socks’ Love.

The next day, the Retanas were slammed. “It was a lifesaver,” Paris said. Local TV stations picked up the feel-good story. The siblings were able to call back four staffers, and, today, the restaurant is stable, if a little slow at times.

Still, Paris misses those good old days, the sizzle of breakfast, when guests filled the place with energy and hope. “It was just more pleasurable to be holding pans and cooking every morning,” he said.

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LAKE BURRITO

Menu: Mexican-American

Alcohol: no

What I ordered: two each of fish, chicken tinga and al pastor tacos; ground-beef nachos; grilled chicken bowl; steak burrito. The food is bright and fresh; the portions, huge. It’s fun to load up choices with the many toppings. I really liked the al pastor, and the nachos; had to save the ginormous burrito for later.

Service options: order online or at kiosk in front

Safety protocols: follows all CDC guidelines; customers aren’t allowed inside

Address, phone: 3040 Keith Bridge Road, Cumming; no phone

Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-6:45 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays

Website: lakeburrito.com

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