Taco Chulo — a 15-year-old south Williamsburg Mexican restaurant at 318 Grand Street, near Havemeyer Street — is closing next month “because of the hipsters leaving and going to Bushwick,” owner Dija Amer tells Eater.
The spacious restaurant will serve its last meal on March 1. Amer says business at the restaurant has taken a 60 percent hit since 2016, and variety of reasons account for the restaurant’s upcoming closure. Top on that list is the changing demographic of the neighborhood.
“Most people in Williamsburg now just want to stay in their condos and order in,” says Amer. “A lot more families are moving in and hipsters are moving to other neighborhoods.”
Indeed, there’s been a huge development boom and price increase in the neighborhood since 2005. The new condos, though, have not led to an uptick of foot traffic at Taco Chulo, Amer says.
The restaurateur also blames increased competition. There’s the influx of fast-casual chain restaurants that now line Williamsburg’s main thoroughfare Bedford Avenue, which was once home to more mom-and-pop stores; outposts of Chipotle, Sweetgreen, By Chloe, and the Meatball Shop are all on or just off the street. The number of Mexican restaurants in the neighborhood has also gone up, with additions like Calexico, Tacombi, and Oaxaca Taqueria.
Another major factor was the proliferation of food delivery services. In the first few years after Taco Chulo opened in 2005, the restaurant only did food deliveries for cash. Then came the influx of delivery services like Grubhub and Seamless, which were initially a boon. “We saw our sales skyrocket, and we were really busy,” says Amer. But as the number of restaurants in the neighborhood grew, so did the premiums the delivery companies were charging, and it no longer became sustainable for Taco Chulo.
Things really started taking a downhill turn in between 2017 and 2018, when she really noticed a drop off in foot traffic and deliveries. The restaurant had recently concluded a renovation to attract new customers, but that didn’t help either. Amer finally made the decision along with her partner Greta Dana to close in October 2019.
“We’re really brokenhearted about what’s happening in Williamsburg, and we’re sad to go,” Amer says, “but we can’t bring back a neighborhood the way it was.” She thinks that Williamsburg diners who don’t go for fast-casual food are opting for trendier spots like Lilia, Llama Inn, and Win Son. “We’re sort of a relic now,” she adds.
In its heyday, Taco Chulo was known for known for its party-vibes, margaritas, and nachos. The Mexican food at Taco Chulo moved between California influences — where Amer is from — and Tex-Mex food — co-owner Dana is from Austin, Texas. The restaurant’s most popular items aside from the margaritas were its quesadillas and its Mission-style overstuffed burritos.
While the restaurant was once a space for the community to get together — Amer recalled Barack Obama’s election in 2008 being one of the busiest nights ever at the restaurant — the seats now mostly sit vacant on any given night. Taco Chulo still gets by on deliveries, but it’s not enough.
“We never opened a restaurant to do deliveries,” says Amer. “We like serving our clients face to face.”