Greenville, the cool choice on any up-and-coming city to visit list, is taking another step to up its street cred in the cool city game. City Hall is now referring to the area at Laurens Road and East Washington Street as Midtown.
A midtown in Atlanta makes sense; a midtown in Greenville, well it's hard for this native to fathom. Let's see what Atlanta's midtown has and how Greenville stacks up... Midtown Atlanta is home to a well-known university, Georgia Tech, a company that is iconic to the city, Coca-Cola, an establishment that was cool before the area was, The Varsity, and hot new restaurants. No way the corner of Washington and Laurens in Greenville can match that, right?
Masters Car Stereo has been installing "thump" on this corner for a long time. You are going to have to step outside the (speaker) box, but Greenville has all the ingredients that make up a Midtown. There is a university, Spinx University. There is a company iconic to the city, Spinx. There is an establishment that was cool before the area was, Zorbas. Now add Willy Taco, the creation of five gringos from Spartanburg, and boom, you have a Midtown.
Before we discuss your soon-to-be new favorite spot, Willy Taco, let's pay tribute to the evolution of Mexican food (though Willy Taco is way more than Mexican) on Laurens Road. When you exit off I-85 and head towards town, um Midtown, the first establishment you come upon is a classic, Taco Bell. This location was a command center in high school from which we could disperse caravans of people to hangout in random fields and dead-end streets on any given weekend night. If you mention Taco Bell in social circles, people will turn their noses up to it. But, deep down in their hearts, they know at least one time in their life when they were in a dark place, probably about 2am, and Taco Bell was there for them. Where else can you hand someone $3.00 and receive 17 soft tacos, 42 packets of hot sauce, and one gallon of Dr. Pepper?
As we continue the journey down Laurens Road, the next stop is a kids' indoor playground, which happens to serve Mexican food...Monterrey. This is the place where stressed-out parents go to let their children run wild, while they meditate over salt-rimmed bowls of sugar with a splash of tequila. The most enjoyable thing about Monterrey is having the ability to order your drink and meal by only speaking numbers. Here is an example order... 24 Dos, 5... In approximately 1 minute and 28 seconds, you will have a 24oz Dos Equis and two enchiladas, rice and beans delivered to your table. Hot plate, Hot plate!
If you stopped at the two previously mentioned establishments, your next stop on Laurens Road will be the Greenville Car Wash. Let your car go through the wash, then ask if you can walk through the wash as well. We need you at your best because Willy Taco is just that...the best.
Willy Taco is opening this week in the old Feed & Seed building at the corner of Laurens and Washington. This is a building that used to have a fake horse standing out front keeping guard, a place where hay could be bought, a place where garden supplies were sold, a place coffee was sipped and weather patterns were discussed. Now, to see the fake horse it will require several flights of tequlia, but to feel the history of the old Feed & Seed, well that just takes opening the front door.
From the repurposed tin ceiling, to old warehouse lights, to old brick from the chimney in the bar facade, bits and pieces of the old Feed & Seed can be seen throughout the space. I would continue describing the restaurant, but someone has already done that better than I can. Check out Greenville News writer Stephanie Burnette's Willy Taco piece here.
I would like to introduce you to the five gringos behind Willy Taco. Two of the gringos are brothers who as kids were most likely to destroy your personal property (printed with permission from a gringo), but as adults they have been quietly making a name for themselves in the Upstate culinary world. William Cribb, the chef, was just named one of four 2017 SC Chef Ambassadors by Gov. Nikki Haley. He is the one behind the bold flavors coming out of Willy Taco's kitchen. Kenneth Cribb is tasked with managing the familia. The familia is a big part of why the Hub City (Spartanburg) location has been so successful. They have created a culture where Willy Taco is known as a fun place to work, where you can grow and advance as an employee. Richard Heatly is the social media ninja. You must follow Willy Taco on social media, but before you do check with your wireless carrier insurance, because I have attempted to eat my phone more than once after viewing an Instagram post. The final two gringos are industry veterans. Willy Taco was Eric Holman's 50th restaurant buildout, and to describe what Bill Burton has done in the restaurant industry would require three blog posts.
Why take time to describe the men behind Willy Taco? I think it is important to understand that Willy Taco Feed & Seed was designed as a place of which Greenville residents could be proud. It would have been easier and much cheaper to take a wrecking ball to the old Feed & Seed building, but they went to great lengths to honor the history and tradition of the building that has meant so much to generations of Greenvillians. So, when you visit Willy Taco, take pride in the fact that you are enjoying creative and bold food in a historic venue from people who are passionate about creating a place that people will be talking about for generations.
Tonight the old Feed & Seed was alive once again, as Willy Taco welcomed friends into the new space. Tequila lockers replaced the seed bins, tables replaced the lawn equipment, and the only fuel you will find is for your stomach and soul. From the response of the people in attendance and the fact that my two children did not break anything, Willy Taco is off to a great start. If the inventory comes up two short in the King of Pops cooler, well the Chocolate Sea Salt popsicles were their reward for no insurance claims needing to be filed.
So, next time you are making life easier at Spinx, cross the street to Willy Taco, where they are making life a hell of a lot more fun.