Tortillaville: Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?
Most restaurant start-ups are a triumph of fuzzy-headed optimism over statistical evidence. Brian Branigan and Allison Culbertson have been down that road. Years ago in New York City, Allison founded Void, the first multi-media lounge (in addition to serving drinks, they showed art films and computer edited shorts). Brian became a partner a few years into the project, and they’ve been partners ever since. They’ve built their grandiose castles in the air. This time they just wanted to keep it simple.
Multi-faceted entrepeneurs, the couple already own a number of businesses. Allison has Olivia on Warren, a shop where she sells the jewelry she designs and makes, though she intends to give that up soon in favor of selling on-line, through a web-based enterprise she calls Ruth Beattie. (Allison, who was adopted, explains that she recently learned that Ruth Beattie was her birth name. “Like the beach glass I use in my jewelry, I’m giving the name a second life,” she says.) The couple are also partners in Hudson Design, a full-service graphics consultancy. “We live in Catskill, work in Hudson, and vacation in Athens,” Brian jokes.
Actually, they winter in the Florida Keys, and every year, as they make their way south on the endless, two-lane road that connects each of the islands in that archipelago, Allison listens to Brian’s hunger-fueled refrain: “Anyone with a fish taco stand along here would make a killing.”
Cut to one day last spring. As they were driving to Rhinebeck, they passed the corner of 9 and 9G, near the Kingston Bridge, and saw an apparently spotless stainless steel trailer/concession stand with a For Sale sign on it. They followed up and learned that the owner had had it made for his son, who, it turned out, had other plans. On a whim, they bought it, then one whim led to another. “On Mother’s Day, my nephew served fish tacos,” says Brian, “and instantly we knew what we were going to do.”
Tortillaville’s first address, where these pictures were taken, was on a strip of grass directly across from the train station in Hudson. This weekend the couple are pulling up stakes and rolling their restaurant up the hill to a lot on the corner of Warren & 5th. Come November, they intend to move again, hitching their wagon to the back of their car and driving it down to the Keys, where their plan, presumably, is to “make a killing” selling fish tacos by the side of the road. Meanwhile, they have been selling them (and other, related dishes, as well as fruity Mexican sodas) in Hudson to a growing throng of regulars, who are clearly taken with the $3.50 fish tacos and $5 beef, chicken, or tofu burritos, and specials such as the garlic shrimp burrito, $7, as well as with the freewheeling ambience. When we visited last Saturday, Tortillaville had been open just fourteen days, yet some customers said they’d been there four times. From all appearances, the return visitors each brought along either a friend, Dad, the dogs, or the kids. The atmosphere at the shared picnic tables was unusually loose and convivial.
The couple are confident relocation is only going to enhance that. “When you come here,” Brian says, “you leave Columbia County and enter a place that is free and clear.” Tortillaville, he claims, “is not just a place to eat, it’s a state of mind.”
Southwest corner of Fifth & Warren Streets, Hudson
Wednesday - Sunday, noon - 6 p.m.
Except in downpours.