Ortega’s Taco Shop Pushes Ahead
A year ago, The Observer sat down with Mave Greene and her daughter, Natalie Greene, to talk about their recent experience of moving Ortega’s Taco Shop from the bare-bones former service station at Lancaster Circle in Ranson to the historic Charles Washington Hall at the center of downtown Charles Town. Just six weeks after the new shop opened, our reporter noted that there were lines a dozen deep, stretching from the counter to the front door, with employees dashing between the crush of customers at the counter and pitching in with prep in the kitchen.
Today the shop is still busy, but with a different atmosphere. The same approach to the food, but a lot of rethinking about the operations. Last year we noted that Mave would wear many hats around the shop — telephone answerer, cashier, taco maker, prep, and business manager. But when we spoke this month, Mave credited her daughter as the person pushing Ortega’s to navigate the turbulence of the pandemic. “If it hadn’t been for Natalie, starting with the idea of the taco kits and then expanding, we probably would have stayed closed.”
Both Mave and Natalie share a strong sense of family. Perhaps it’s the stories of their family heritage in La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico, where the recipes that influence the shop’s menu originate. Located roughly 900 miles south of San Diego, California, almost at the tip of the Baja peninsula, the La Paz region is a sea-side desert in the tropics, and the cuisine there reflects the climate. Food preparation is lighter, with an emphasis on fruit, very fresh, and a purposeful balance of spices. Mave noted that growing up, her experience was “tacos as an appetizer — a taquito and a drink.” Natalie recalled how the kitchen smells of her childhood here in Jefferson County were synonymous with Mave’s home cooking: “I loved that smell and I want our customers to experience the feeling I had when I was a kid, the way I grew up. It’s a simple menu and you can trust the food.”
When the pandemic hit, Natalie pondered the shop’s next steps. She had already been working to launch the website and update the ordering system from the traditional paper slips and shouting into the kitchen. The first step was to “design the taco kits, so our customers could put together a simple meal at home. Then we brought back one person for a week, then a second as the business picked up. By the end of April we were getting into the routine of phone orders and curbside pickup and by May we had a full menu to offer. It’s been great working with Bushel & Peck — we share a lot of customers and coordinate so they can schedule a single pickup at the curb out front.”
Reflecting on her own feelings, Natalie shared, “I feel disappointed for our customers. It’s a huge blow for us that we can’t give our customers what they want. We have a routine now, but it’s a different type of normal and every week is different. People ask when we are going to let them in. Sometimes I get yelled at. I understand it’s an emotional impact for people. But I’m thinking constantly about the safety of our family and staff.” Mave emphasized also, that beyond the food, the success of the shop has always been about “the showtime. We are always listening and adapting. Right now, we focus on sharing a little bit of happiness.”
Ortega’s Taco Shop is located at 100 West Washington Street, Charles Town. Visit their website or find them on Facebook. Ortega’s is currently open for take-away orders Monday to Friday 11:00 am to 8:00 pm, Saturday 8:00 am to 8:00 pm. Window & Curbside service only (no seating inside or outside). Catering menu on website.By Staff Contributor