by Larry Austin
Mighty Taco officials said the local restaurant chain didn't choose to open its newest location on Grand Island. "Grand Island chose us," explained Russ Jasulevich, chief operating officer of Mighty Taco.
Monday just before 10 a.m., Mighty Taco officially opened its 18th restaurant and first on Grand Island. The restaurant serves what Jasulevich called Buff-Mex food at its best.
"We've been invited here for years and the timing was right, the opportunity was right, the welcome wagon was out," he said of the opening of an Island location.
Island's welcome wagon included more than a dozen customers who waited impatiently outside the restaurant at 2455 Grand Island Blvd. for the opening. Islanders Patrick Antonelli said he and Chris Gibney and Eric Harnden camped out beginning at noon Sunday and spent 22 straight hours by the front door in a tent. The brave ate first: Antonelli waited in temperatures that dipped well below freezing for his three-cheese nacho burrito.
"We had ice that we bought yesterday at 10 in the morning and it's still frozen in the bag," Harnden said. "It was cold."
"We've never had an opening where we've had people camp out," Jasulevich said. He called the response from Islanders to the opening day "overwhelming."
"It's a first for the Island and a first for us," he said, and the opening augurs well for prospects for success at the new location.
"We have nothing but the utmost confidence that we will continue being welcomed here at the Island," he said. "The response came from people who looked for jobs, who started coming in on the day we announced, months and months before we were even ready to accept applications. So between the people wanting to work here and the customers, this is great."
Jasulevich said the restaurant will employ 35 to 40 workers.
Lori Licht, the Island restaurant's manager, said she's worked for Mighty Taco for 15 years and said the company stands apart from other restaurants because of "the quality of food, the fast service and the people that generally work for us are all good, friendly people. It's a fun job."
Licht had never before experienced customers camping out before an opening day.
"Its pretty awesome, actually," she said. "I'm glad to be a part of this opening. It's really exciting."
Lee Becker and Alex Re spent 16 hours in a car, since 6 p.m. Sunday, to claim first spot in line at the drive-thru.
"I don't even know how to describe it," said Becker before he devoured a Super Mighty burrito. "We've been talking about this Mighty Taco opening up for so long that I just had to be the first person through this drive-thru, being the fast food junkie that I am."
Part of the reason for camping out at the door was "because we've been trying to get (a Mighty Taco) here for so long," said Jordan Dudish, who was fourth in line. The next closest Mighty Taco is in Niagara Falls, but no longer will Islanders have to cross the bridge to eat a Super Mighty or El Nino.
"Oh, my God, it's going to be wonderful. We're going to save so much gas," said Brittney Wall (fifth in line). She called the food "affordable and good."
Jasulevich said on Facebook, where Mighty Taco has more than 70,000 fans, someone wrote on the company wall: "This Mighty Taco, is this something I should know about?" Inhabitants of cyberspace may not appreciate the passion Western New Yorkers have for their local ambrosia, which neither cold nor dark of night could attenuate Monday. For those not in the know, "I have nothing but pity," Re said over a chicken roastito.
"It's like heaven wrapped in a tortilla shell," Becker explained.
"Of course, people who aren't from Buffalo and don't understand the food culture in Buffalo, will never understand unless they've been to Buffalo and experienced a lot that only Buffalo has to offer," Jasulevich said.
"We've got great fans, great fans."