‘Leap of faith’ pays off for owner of new downtown State College restaurant. What’s next?
The way Shawn Carter sees it, he was given a “gift by God to serve people and a passion for food.” Now he’s using that gift at Carter’s Table, the downtown State College restaurant that opened in January and has quickly gained a following for its unique take on tacos and quesadillas.
The new brick-and-mortar location, though Carter’s first restaurant, wasn’t the entrepreneur’s first foray into the food industry. He operated a catering business prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and then, in 2022, resumed catering and appearing at area farmers markets. It was there that he began serving his fan-favorite tacos and seeing the demand that warranted a restaurant.
“Tacos are simple to make and everyone likes tacos,” Carter said. “The popularity was incredible. It was an amazing sight to see. ... I would be in awe, just sitting there, making tacos outside, while there’s a line wrapping around the tent, with people waiting 30 minutes to get tacos.”
After being approached by a local real estate agent who noticed Carter’s popularity, he took “a leap of faith” and pivoted from farmers markets and catering to serving hungry downtown diners, Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. — though he does want to resume catering at a later date.
Today, Carter’s Table offers six types of tacos and three types of quesadillas, with a variety of daily specials, like shrimp and grits. While the menu is on the smaller side now, Carter hopes to add items in the coming months, while sticking to what he feels makes Carter’s Table unique.
“I think there’s a need for small, mom-and-pop places that are different,” he explained, when asked what he feels has made his food and restaurant popular thus far, “and I think there’s a need for international flavors ... and we’re filling that void.”
He added: “I try to make food that’s simple, that’s not technique-driven and that’s more on the comfort food side. ... I try to make food that’s relatable and good. I make food that I like to eat and it just so happens that other people like it, too.”
So far, Carter’s Table’s best-seller menu items are the chicken quesadillas and chicken tacos. Both the chili-lime grilled chicken tacos and quesadillas come with pickled onions, cojita cheese and jalapeno cilantro crema. However, Carter’s personal favorite is the roasted pork take on the same.
International flavors shine through in menu items like the Asian five spice beef tacos, topped with cabbage, pickled carrots and peppers, Sriracha mayo and a chili garlic sauce, as well as specials like a Thai barbecue taco inspired by peanut chicken satay.
“With the Asian five spice beef taco, obviously a taco is inherently Mexican, but other than it being a taco, there’s really not anything Mexican about it,” Carter said. “It has Sriracha mayo in it. It has five spice powder. There’s a chili garlic sauce. You’ve probably had those things in different forms, in sushi and stir fry, but never in a taco. That’s an example of how you can expect to eat something you probably never had before, flavor-wise, (at Carter’s Table).”
For the future, Carter plans an April grand opening, as he admits the restaurant is still in its soft opening phase, still using his catering kitchen to make part of the food as he waits for his kitchen to be outfitted with the rest of the restaurant’s necessary equipment. He also is considering rolling out an online ordering option and possibly delivery, as well as specialty food events with prix fixe menus aimed at drawing locals and professionals to downtown’s dining scene, particularly to an area that may seem a little more student-focused. All the while, Carter is still keeping an eye on the ventures that launched his current success.
“A short-term goal is to be able to do catering again, because I still have clients that call me, email me and text me pretty much every day asking for catering,” he said. “Also, (I want) to go back to the farmers market, because I loved that. I still love doing what I do, but cooking outside for people is a lot of fun.”
Carter’s Table is located at 407 E. Beaver Ave., with the entrance and parking located between Sowers Harvest Café and D.P. Dough, off Sowers Street.
Holly Riddle is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.