Tako Taco is Closed: What’s Up

Tako Taco, 235 West Depot Avenue, Knoxville, August 2018
Tako Taco, 235 West Depot Avenue, Knoxville, August 2018

After just over five years at 235 West Depot Avenue, Tako Taco has closed. The restaurant opened in August 2018 as the latest concept by chef Jesse Newmister. The restaurant is part of the Mill and Mine and has grown to have its own chef, with a separate chef in charge of catering for the venue, out of the same kitchen. Jesse has continued as Culinary Director for the venue. Margaret Stolfi, Manager at Mill and Mine since fall of 2016, and recently became a partner in that business, also co-owns Kaizen and Red Panda Market with Jesse, who is her husband. I sat down with the two of them to discuss what’s happening with Mill and Mine and the restaurant.

Margaret said, “One of the goals moving forward is to have something in that space that is really cohesive to what we have going on at the Mill and Mine . . . When we opened Tako Taco, the Mill and Mine didn’t have its own identity, we were such a new business.” She added that much has changed over those years, with the disruption of the pandemic, followed by time to consider what is working best for the venue. “We’ve always been one team,” and they would like for that to be more obvious. “We want it to compliment and elevate the place.”

She described the evolution of the venue from a concert venue with some private events, to more of an event space that also hosts concerts. She said the events, private and public, that are hosted at the venue have been the most consistent over the last several years as the concert business was hit hard and early by the pandemic and was then slow to recover. “We’ve built our business around the private events, such as “galas and weddings.”

Mayor’s Summit on Entrepreneurship, The Mill and Mine, Knoxville, September 2016

To find the right concept for the restaurant space to compliment this shift in focus is the goal for the next several months. The concept was fun and it served to activate the space, but they sense a need for something different going forward. Even as they are forming new ideas for the space, Jesse said he is proud of what they accomplished with Tako Taco and feels they really peaked with their most recent menu. That said, they are excited about exploring how a new direction might look. Margaret said, “Our ideas were shifting away from the Tako Taco concept and we decided to have a fresh start.”

The venue itself is “busier than ever,” Margaret said and that has allowed them to retain the majority of the staff during the transition. She was in a meeting with the team when I arrived. She noted they had two weddings this past weekend and a string of concerts coming soon. “This is one of our busiest seasons.”

They are not ready to announce the new concept, but it will be a restaurant that will be open regular restaurant hours, and not just during events. They continue to experiment and will likely have some pop-up events through the end of the year (watch their Instagram feed) that may offer clues to what is coming. She said they are going to experiment with the space during shows.

The Bad Plus, Mill and Mine, Big Ears Festival, Knoxville, April 2023

Some of the popups will simply be fun collaborations with others. She said it gives them a chance to “be creative and do all those things we want to do, but don’t have time when a restaurant is open five days a week.” She said they would love to “do wine dinners and collaborations with other creative people.”

The space, which they are temporarily calling “The Green Room,” will also be available during this interim for rent for private parties. That will start in December and they are imagining it being the perfect spot for holiday parties. She pointed out that the size of Mill and Mine makes it difficult for small groups and this is an answer, for now, and they may look for ways to make that happen even after the new concept opens.

The goal for opening the next iteration of the space is February. They want to be settled in and “have our feet under us,” before Big Ears hits in March, since that is an intensely busy several days for all downtown restaurants.

“We are excited and feel refreshed and energized to try some new things. We are proud of what we’ve done and we are happy to move ahead.”