The owners of popular Mexican food popup Corazon 805 Tacos finally have their own brick-and-mortar location in downtown San Luis Obispo.
Corazon Café, as the new eatery is known, is located at the corner of Higuera and Chorro streets in the century-old Wineman Hotel.
“For a few years, we have thought about what it might take to open a restaurant (and) where the perfect place might be,” co-owner Sara McGrath wrote via email. “This opportunity … seemed like a great way to start small and manageable.”
The café celebrated its soft opening at 847 Higuera St. on May 6, although a grand opening date hasn’t been set yet.
In the meantime, the team is still serving up freshly crafted tacos on handmade tortillas via their popup tent.
“Having a café space in which to bring in the community is a dream come true,” McGrath said.
Who is behind new SLO restaurant?
The team behind Corazon Café combines cultures, love and friendship in a partnership that crosses borders and backgrounds.
Chef and partner Crescencio “Chencho” Villar, 50, manages the kitchen. McGrath’s husband Pedro Arias Lopez, 44, manages the front of the house, and 48-year-old McGrath handles Corazon Café’s community relations, coordinating special events such as art shows, and some administration duties.
McGrath and Lopez met 15 years ago when she was visiting Mexico, and later married.
McGrath is currently a service coordinator for Tri-Counties Regional Center, which works with individuals with developmental disabilities living in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties She’s also an advocate, artist, travel lover and breast cancer survivor.
McGrath said Lopez and Villar are longtime friends and coworkers originally from Mexico. Lopez, who was born in Chiapas, worked for his family’s business making pan dulce and tamales, and Villar grew up on his familys farm in Guerrero.
The guys worked in San Luis Obispo restaurants for “the last decade or so,” McGrath said, at Big Sky Cafe, Novo and the now-closed Pepe Delgado’s Mexican Restaurant.
The trio launched Corazon 805 Tacos five years ago as a pop-up tent with support from the owners of Big Sky Cafe and Novo, who allowed the team to prepare catered food in those kitchens during off hours and provided guidance and advice.
They regularly serve patrons at Liquid Gravity Brewing Co. in San Luis Obispo and cater weddings and other events.
In April, McGrath and her partners announced their next big move — to the former home of a coffee shop.
“Chencho has left Novo after 13 years,” the trio announced April 7 on the Corazon805Tacos Facebook page. “Pedro has left Big Sky after 15 years. Why? ‘Cause we have a brick and mortar!!!”
“It makes you happy to have your own place, do what you love, serve it to the guests and have them come back again and again,” Villar said via phone. “Our first customers were our regulars from Corazon 805 Tacos. They showed up the first day and kept coming back. “
“Me and Pedro, we have a lot of responsibility now, a lot of work, a lot to learn about having a restaurant,” he said. “In 24 hours, you had to learn everything … But we’ve worked so hard to come this far. The good thing is, we are happy, we love what we’re doing.”
What’s on the menu at Corazon Café?
The sprightly, brightly colorful new casual cafe has a limited menu for now, but the partners say they’re starting small on purpose.
“It is a very tiny kitchen and all electric,” McGrath explained.
The international heritage of the three partners is reflected in the café’s current cross-cultural offerings for breakfast, lunch and coffee breaks.
The menu for mid-May included “chilaquiles, pancakes with fresh strawberries from the farmers market, corned beef, hash with eggs and potatoes, kale and spring mix salad with honey avocado vinaigrette, and breakfast wraps,” she described.
One of restaurant’s specialties is beverages, McGrath said, including aguas frescas and coffee drinks — some of which have a Mexican twist.
One specialty latte, tascalate, is made with an imported base of roasted corn, cacao and annato seed.
“It’s been so popular that we have run out and are waiting for a new shipment from Chiapas, Mexico,” McGrath said.
For other beverages, they’ll also be bringing in soon some artisan chocolate from Chiapas.
SLO County welcomes Mexican food eatery
Responses to Corazon Café so far have been enthusiastic and welcoming, McGrath said.
“Our first customers were our regulars from Corazon 805 Tacos,” Villar said. “They showed up the first day and kept coming back. “
In one post, the San Luis Obispo Latino Facebook page urged its followers to “stop by this new place with lots of delicious things, supporting our Latino community with their small businesses.”
“We want the space to feel very inclusive, and welcoming of everybody, and especially our very diverse Latino community,” McGrath wrote via email. “We’ve put a lot of love into it along with the help of some very supportive friends and family. It’s a dream come true. It’s the ‘American dream.’ Coffee. Community. Culture. And ‘comida.’ ”
“This is the story of immigrants, and this is the immigrant story — hard work, risk and eventual success,” McGrath’s father, former Port San Luis Harbor harbormaster Steve McGrath said via text.
He understands that well. He was born in Glasgow, while his wife, community leader Sandi Sigurdson, is from Vancouver, British Columbia, and their daughter Sara was born in the Scottish border country.
“Immigrants — we need more of them!” Steve McGrath said.
More about Corazon Café
Corazon Café is currently open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, but the owners hold to expand those hours soon.