Like many ventures post-COVID, this was not how things were supposed to go.

In July 2019, Paige Alexander, co-owner of Zettas sandwich shop, and her partners had signed a lease to open a cocktail bar in northeast Minneapolis. But two weeks before finalizing the bank loan this past spring, as the implications of a pandemic weighed on her, “I pulled the plug on the project,” she said.

She gave herself two weeks to come up with something new, a place to channel more than a year of recipe development and ideas for the bar that wasn’t to be. She landed on tacos.

Yeah Yeah Taco opened in May (2424 Nicollet Av., Mpls., 763-310-2136), sharing the kitchen — all 200 square feet of it — staff and hours of Zettas (763-325-3190, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday).

And it’s going better than Alexander could have imagined.

“It was a weekend thing,” she said. “I didn’t know if it would take off or anything. Now, it’s most of our business. It’s tripled our sales.”

The taco shop’s buzz is also rubbing off on the piadina business. (Piadinas are northern Italian flatbread sandwiches with ricotta and other fillings.) “Zettas is getting more popular,” Alexander said. “It’s exposing us to more customers.”

It never crossed Alexander’s mind to just expand the Zettas menu into taco territory. Now she has big plans for Yeah Yeah Taco’s future.

“Long term, I want to really expand the brand, and have a lot of stores,” she said. “Maybe be a competitor with Chipotle or Taco Bell.”

Carnitas, slow-cooked chicken, sweet potatoes and a glazed roast pork (more on that later) are the choices that can go in tacos, burritos and bowls (all under $11). Alexander describes the menu as “Hispanic infused with Midwest” — there’s even the occasional pot roast taco.

That pork glaze is made from shagbark, similar to maple syrup but not as sweet. Alexander said she might be the only person cooking with it in the Twin Cities.

Alexander doesn’t have a formal culinary background, but dove in to teaching herself a few months after a serious bike accident in 2015.

“I did a lot of soul searching,” she said. “‘What do I really want to do, and if I do have talents, what do I want to give them to?’ I really fell in love with cooking.”

Since Yeah Yeah Taco has blown up, counter seating and stools in Zettas have given way to more kitchen space for the two brands. There is a small patio, but both operations are takeout only.

It’s not the restaurant Alexander thought she would be opening this year, but she’s not disappointed.

“Honestly,” she said, “I’m happier.”

 

@SharynJackson