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Simon Fisher, Trippy Taco Owner
“It all started with a love of tacos!” answered Simon. The friendly and mellow owner of Melbourne’s beloved taco joint sat down with us to explain how his passion for fresh tortillas and tacos grew into the bustling business it is today. His shop is nested in Fitzroy, one of the hippest areas of Melbourne, and beacons hungry taco-goers with a bright orange sign set with black lettering. Trippy Taco filled our tummies and our hearts.
What started out as a one-time taco party turned into a booming business, which has grown in popularity over the last 7 years. Read on to hear about the Trippy Taco’s background in festival life, hippies, and peace. It’s pretty radical, if we do say so ourselves.
To see how it’s evolved over time and how it’s managed to maintain the essence of what it was when it first started, I’m pretty happy about that.
Could you tell us a bit about Trippy Taco and how it started?
I guess if you go way back, Trippy Taco started in about 2000. I had already been living in California and Mexico for a few years and I was addicted to tacos. When I came home there was nothing like them around but there was a central American community living in Australia who had the flour to make the tortillas. I had leant how to make them when I was living in Mexico and California and just kept making them when I got home. I gave them to friends and they liked them, my dinner parties kept getting bigger. One time, we were up in Byron Bay and my friend, who lived in a bus with loads of hippy types on a caravan park, suggested that we have a party. So we had a day party and I made tacos, from then on it was called Trippy Taco. We put out flyers and everything, it was a real fun party. We had Djs and I had tacos. About 50 to 100 people turned up and from that, me and a couple of mates thought that we should keep doing it. We started to look at festivals that were coming up and that’s when we did our first event. I don’t think we made any money for about 3 years but we just loved doing it. We travelled around to all of the festivals and paid for ourselves to keep going. I did that for 5 or 6 years until we gradually got more popular. It was also getting more exhausting so I thought about getting a shop and making it a bit more stable, that’s when I bought the shop around the corner. We ran the business from there for about 5 years and then moved here 7 months ago. That’s it in a nutshell really. It all started with a love of tacos!
So the idea originated in Byron Bay?
Kind of, yeah. It just grew organically.
What were you doing in California and Mexico?
I was pretty much surfing and snowboarding. I was doing photographs for surf and snowboard magazines and also working at sporting events. In between events I would go surfing. I had a truck in Mexico and would go camping on the beach. I basically had a surf board and a gas stove, it was good fun. I met loads of people and just loved the food. I love all kinds of street food. I’m addicted to Vietnamese food too. These days there’s a lot of it around, you can even buy tortillas in the supermarkets. It’s pretty interesting to see all of these taco shops popping up everywhere. It’s good because it’s more tacos to eat!
Do you go out to restaurants and order tacos?
I don’t have much time. I make my own a lot at home. My place is vegetarian, but I’m not vegetarian.
Why is Trippy Taco vegetarian but you’re not?
I was just easier as we were doing a lot of festivals where people didn’t really want to buy meat. It seemed to work better that way so I kept doing it. There’s a different market for it. In some ways it’s kind of limiting but in other ways it works really well.
What’s the best selling taco that you make at Trippy Taco?
The black bean one. That’s probably the most popular. We also do a char-grilled Tofu taco and that seems to sell well. I love the breakfast taco with scrambled eggs and salsa. I just like the fresh tortillas! We’ve always made our own and you can’t beat it.
Is it a Melbourne twist on traditional taco recipes?
I guess so. I would say there’s traditional elements to it but I never really call it Mexican. I just learnt it while I was travelling and wanted to keep making it.
Did you grow up in Australia?
I grew up on the Gold Coast. I’ve lived in Melbourne now since about 1990. For most of my 20′s I was travelling around but would always come back to Melbourne. The Gold Coast is like Miami or something, it’s very American.
How was it seeing your initial idea materialise in to a shop?
It’s funny, isn’t it? It’s grown so organically! Basically it came from me borrowing things from my friends for festivals. I’d borrow cookers and all sorts. To see how it’s evolved over time and how it’s managed to maintain the essence of what it was when it first started, I’m pretty happy about that. On both shops, my Dad and I did the whole fit out so my parents are really proud to see how it’s grown too.
Have you got a hospitality background?
I’ve worked in a lot of kitchens and I love cooking. I’m not a chef, I just cook a lot. I haven’t got a huge repertoire, just tacos and burritos!
That’s all you need huh?
In Asia we noticed that street sellers would only have one item on the menu but they’d do it really well…
Yeah, that was my idea for Trippy Taco I guess. In Melbourne we didn’t have the concept of ‘street food’. Even when I first opened the shop, everyone would eat their taco with a knife and fork. I gave up after while of saying they didn’t have to.
Did you advertise the shop at all?
I hadn’t ever advertised until very recently when I was approached by a couple of people. Before then it was always word of mouth. Back when I had the other shop it was just me in there cooking, people would have to come and wake me up! I would literally fall asleep reading at the back of the shop and people would come in for a taco and be like, ‘Excuse me, are you making food?’ and I’d say, ‘Yeah! What would you like?’. Now I’ve got about 25 staff so it’s totally different.
Before I die I want to find true peace.
Do you still cook?
Sometimes. Not much, only when I’m training people. I like the food to be a certain way so I’m trying to get in there and train people.
How do you make an authentic tortilla?
Tortillas are pretty easy. I think the trick is to get to know how the flour behaves. It’s like anything, if you make it enough you just get to know that once you’ve finished mixing the dough it should be wetter than what I need it as it’ll keep soaking up water. It has to be a good thickness and the pan has to be a good temperature. They’re best when they bubble up and separate. When you see them puff up on the grill, that’s when you know you’ve got a good one. We make them everyday and stack them up.
How many do you make a day?
I don’t know. It’d be 100 or so.
How did you go from making no profit at festivals to funding the shop?
Just gradually I guess. It was made possible through borrowing money from my parents. They don’t have much money and I couldn’t get money from banks as I don’t have any assets. Even when I moved to this place and my books were looking really good they didn’t lend me anything, so I had to ask my parents. In some ways it’s better to self-fund it although it takes longer. If you get other people to invest you can do things more quickly but you’d have to make more compromises.
Has it been hard work?
Has it been worth it?
Yes! At festivals, even though we didn’t make so much money, at one point we did a few weekends of festivals in a row and got a bunch of cash. That’s when I realised that I could make money from it. The next season I got a bit more serious and my friends thought it was too much like hard work. I got other people in to help but it’s always been fun.
Do you still do festivals?
No. Now, the hardest thing is managing people. There’s so many elements to keeping it all going.
Where do you get your ingredients from?
From different places. There’s Casa Iberica (http://casaibericadeli.com.au/) near here and another place called Aztec Products (http://www.aztecmexican.com.au/). Casa Iberica is a little Spanish deli and they’ve got lots of really good ingredients, they do really big sandwiches for about $5 so it’s great for lunch. You can choose whatever you want on it, they’ve got so many hams and salamis. I get a lot of my hot sauces from there too. That was another thing; nobody put free condiments on the table, it just didn’t happen. You always had to pay 20c for a sauce but I want people to be able to splash around hot sauce all over their stuff. At Trippy Taco I put different hot sauces out.
Surely it’s a big decision to accompany your food with someone else’s product, how do you choose which sauces to offer?
I just put my favourite ones out. There’s Tapatio, a chipotle sauce and a couple of others. A couple are hot but won’t kill you like some hot sauces, you can still taste it.
Are you familiar with Byron Bay Chilli Company in Byron Bay? John the owner is so passionate about chillies!
That’s how I was about tacos. I was trying to educate people, they had so may questions. People know now, through me and other people pushing it.
So you’re job is done?
Yeah! Which is good because it took a lot of energy. Just having to explain over and over. When Mad Mex (http://www.madmex.com.au/) first started, they put up a ‘How to eat a burrito’ guide! People just didn’t know but now they’re street food savvy.
Why do you think Mexican food has become so popular here?
It’s a fun thing and Mexican food suits our climate and way of life, it’s appealing. We’ve always liked beer and beers like Corona go hand-in-hand. We’ve got a good beach and surf culture. It’s fresh and has got wide appeal. Even when we were growing up here, our Mum’s would make us tacos from the hard shell packs. We all knew what tacos were but didn’t know what a fresh tortilla was.
People in Melbourne seem very supportive of independent businesses, do you think that has been a factor in the success of Trippy Taco?
Yeah, and that’s the reason why Melbourne is such a vibrant place, it’s not exclusive. In Sydney real estate was really expensive in the 90′s and for someone like me to go and start a shop, you just couldn’t! Down here the licencing laws were more relaxed. You could have a little bar, like a few people could get together and open it. I guess a lot of people had ideas, wanted to do them, and it was easy here. That’s the good thing about Melbourne and what makes it really interesting. One area seems to get a bit tired and then another little area will pop up, it’s real hard to keep track of as there’s a new place popping up everyday.
If you were going out for food, where would you go?
Last night I went to Izakaya Den (http://www.izakayaden.com.au/index.html) I love it there. There’s so many places, I don’t even know where to start!
Is that what you do in your spare time?
I don’t have much. When I do we go out to different places for dinner. We do a lot of cooking ourselves. I go through phases, so I’ll find somewhere that I really like and stick to it. At the moment I’ll have Pho from I Love Pho (https://www.facebook.com/ILovePho264richmond) everyday, it’s real nice. Ahh, Pizza! I love pizza as well. I Carusi (http://www.icarusipizza.com.au/) do the best pizzas.
What do you cook at home?
My girlfriend is Chinese so she cooks a lot of Cantonese, but she does anything really. She can get a recipe, cook it and it’ll be awesome! She cooks different stuff all of the time, so that’s amazing. I cook a lot of breakfasts, tacos, sometimes pancakes – I’m the breakfast guy.
What do you want to do before you die?
That’s a good question. Before I die I want to find true peace.
Do you get stressed out?
I guess I get stressed out as much as everyone else. I’ve been in to Buddhism for years now and they say that the moment of death is the moment of truth. Two things matter when you die; how you’ve lived your life and the state of your mind at the moment of death. They believe in reincarnation, so how your mind is and how you’ve lived will effect your re-birth. I guess my goal is to work towards that and learn to be peaceful.
You seem pretty peaceful!
Yeah, I’m doing all right but there’s always room for improvement.
Do you hope that Trippy Taco gets kept in the family?
In some way or other, yes definitely. It’s only been me really but I’d like to keep growing it. It’s just a project but I would like to see it keep evolving, like a Pokémon.