In an interview earlier this month restaurateur and North Lawndale native Taylor Mason described her story as “pretty straightforward.”
“I didn’t expect to be in ‘taco life,’” she said. “I always joke that the ‘taco life’ chose me.”
There is, of course, more to this story than that. Mason became fascinated with California-style tacos while attending college at the Golden State, and decided to do her own take on it when she ended up moving back to Chicago. She and the woman who eventually became her wife decided to turn the idea into a business. East Garfield Park’s Hatchery Chicago food business incubator gave them the support they needed to get the business off the ground.
Since then, Taylor’s Tacos catering company grew into a restaurant, which just so happens to be located on Taylor Street in Little Italy. It opened in May. Now, Mason is giving back, joining the panel of judges for the Dec. 1 food and beverage business pitch contest organized by the Hatchery and Grubhub delivery platform. The winner will be able to use one of the Hatchery’s private kitchens for free.
The contest is open to all Illinois residents ages 21 and older who own a food or beverage business that is either just starting to get off the ground or is looking to expand. Applications are due on Oct. 30 at 5 p.m. The Hatchery and Grubhub will narrow down the applicants to five finalists by early November, and those finalists will have a chance to pitch their business before a panel of judges.
Mason recalled that while she liked California, she had to come back to Chicago during her senior year to help take care of her ailing mother. By the time Mason’s mother recovered, she was “too broke to go back to California.”
“I missed the California taco, and I decided to take an authentic Mexican-style taco and put my soulful spin to it,” she said.
Mason made her first Taylor’s Taco in 2014. When she tried selling some at The VIBE Collective artists showcase, the line went around the corner.
But it was when Mason met artist and former ballerina Maya Mason in 2016 that the concept truly turned into a business. The two were part of one of the first cohorts of entrepreneurs to move into the Hatchery when it opened in 2018.
Hatchery members start out using shared kitchens, and they become eligible to rent out one of the 56 private kitchens. The Masons won the right to use a private kitchen for free during the Hatchery’s first ever pitch contest.
They stayed at the Hatchery for three years. Taylor Mason said that they found the experience valuable for reasons beyond the cooking equipment. For example, they learned business fundamentals, such as how to make balance sheets.
“Just being in the incubator space in by itself, and working with entrepreneurs who have the same skills, drive, [being able to] talk about things that are going well, talking about things that aren’t going well, and that’s priceless,” she added.
Taylor’s Tacos started out as simply a catering company. In 2022, they opened a commercial event space called “Taylored.” In May 2023, the couple opened a restaurant.
Mason isn’t stopping there. She is part of a team that has been chosen as a finalist by the city to redevelop the 3800 block of Madison Street in West Garfield Park.
She said that having grown up in North Lawndale, she felt the impact of the shortage of grocery stores and restaurants on the West Side, and she was “stoked” to be involved.
“I really want to take the part of having the West Side [become] great again,” Mason said. “It would be a dream come true and exactly the reason why we started [Taylor’s Tacos] to begin with.”
She said that even if Garfield Green team doesn’t get the bid, opening a restaurant on the West Side is her long-term goal.
Mason said that she was “super excited” to be chosen as a judge for the same contest that gave her an opportunity to use a private kitchen five years ago.”
“They could’ve chosen anyone, and I’m happy to be part of this amazing panel,” Mason said.