BIRMINGHAM WEEKLY: Why did you chose this location?
RICHARD BISHOP: Twenty years ago, Five Points South was the premier entertainment district of Birmingham. Now, whether it’s the Summit, Second Avenue, the Lakeview District, etc., it’s spread out. There’s been some bad press here — and rightly so — over the last few years. This is an historic district. There is a good merchants association; it’s organized. We hope that the district will continue to grow and come back to its former self. Just new development drawing people and bringing a good vibe.
There were some people who were like, ‘Why are you opening up another Mexican restaurant? There’s one on the corner and there’s one across the street. Three in a row?’ That definitely crossed our minds, but we just went with our passion.
Richard, you’ve been in the food business for a long time. Why did you choose Mexican food for this venture?
RB: It all comes from a vision, a hunch. I keep up with what trends are, what people are looking for, what’s hot. I love Mexican food. I love the culture.
CHELSEA BUTLER: He still makes Mexican food at home. I’ll come from work and he’s making enchiladas.
RB: The whole concept is rooted in Mexican food, but we fuse it a bit with American. We do the chicken BLT taco. Our steak taco is really not Mexican in any way, other than that there is a tortilla. That’s sort of what I enjoy doing — being able to create new items. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and I don’t know the half of what I could know about it. The concept, we really just decided to do because we felt a passion for it and we knew we could do it good, fast, healthy and we could do it to please people. Our food, hopefully, will speak for itself.
You emphasize the freshness of the natural ingredients used in your menu items. Why is that important to you, and how do offer that while maintaining affordable prices?
RB: It’s the quality aspect. Our shrimp taco — the ingredients that go into that, and the effort that it takes to make that come out right — in a fine-dining restaurant, that would be an appetizer that you would easily pay eight, nine dollars for. $3.55 is what we charge. So, it’s this quality level that you expect from restaurants that have high-powered chefs. That’s the kind of food we have.
We don’t have any grand visions of being Donald Trump. We like who we are. This is just food for people, all walks of life, whether you’re an attorney walking down from your office or you’re out of work. That’s our philosophy, who we want to be. I worked in fine-dining restaurants for many years. They’re great and there’s a need for that kind of thing. We have great restaurants in Birmingham. That’s not who we are. We’re a taco place. We’re street food, trying to keep the prices low, do some volume, make a little bit of money.
CB: I ask everyone who comes to the counter: “How’d you hear about us?” Some say, “A friend.” Some say, “I just walked in.” Some say, “I was riding by and I saw ‘Fresh’, I saw ‘Affordable’ and then I saw ‘Healthy.’ I’ll try that.” It gets people in.
People are starting to care more about where their food/meat is coming from. It’s disheartening to see that processed foods are the most affordable. Because of that, people are going for what’s cheap and convenient. Are you trying to turn the tides?
RB: There’s always been — since the 1960s — this whole movement towards sustainability and organic. It started on the West Coast. Now, it’s just more into the mainstream. There are best-selling books about it. People are more knowledgeable, sophisticated about it. There’s still a ways to go. I know enough about cooking to know that you cook from wholesome, raw, whole foods and you do things somewhat in moderation. We have fatty cheeses on some of the tacos, but it’s not crazy processed cheese. We have lean meats, naturally raised meats. We don’t buy the imported shrimp that comes from Asia. We buy domestic farm-raised catfish. All natural chicken. It makes a difference in the flavor.
Can you talk about the role of food in your home? I think it’s interesting that you’re so involved in the business side as well as the recipe development. Did you create the entire menu here, and where did the inspiration come from?
RB: The food is just a part of who I am. I have a passion for it. I believe I have a talent for it. As far as cooking at home, we shop once or twice a week — my wife and I — and we pretty much plan four or five dinners a week.
CB: Sometimes they write the menu of the week on a chalkboard.
RB: It could be all kinds of cuisine. Sometimes it’s basic. Sometimes we experiment. I have a great taco that I may want to do here. It was a raw beet salad, shredded beets, shredded carrot, classic French vinaigrette: shallots, vinegar, olive oil. It had walnuts, cilantro. It’s crunchy. It’s such a burst of flavor. We took it off the drawing board here, but it’s sitting there waiting to come back, because I think it’s fantastic. It’s just so good, so light, so healthy. We’ll play around with things. You can pretty much put anything in a taco — in a tortilla — and it would be good.
Camp Taco is located at 1017 20th Street South. The restaurant’s winter hours are Mon-Thurs 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Call (205) 930-1915 or visit www.camptaco.net for more information.