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Taking tacos from Otago to the world

You might not immediately associate Mexican food with Central Otago. But the Taco Medic team is determined to turn its tacos with a Kiwi twist into a household favourite in New Zealand and beyond.

Founded by cousins Ant Wilkins and Robbie McGillivray, Taco Medic began life as a Queenstown food truck.

Ant first experienced authentic Mexican tacos in taqueria stalls on the beaches of Puerto Escondido, while away on a surf trip. He came home to Central Otago armed with an idea to take this fresh staple of Mexican cuisine and put a Kiwi spin on it.

“There is plenty of quick service Mexican food available in New Zealand, but we wanted to present it differently,” Ant explains. “We’re Kiwi blokes and love seafood, beef, pork, and fresh veggies – we wanted to push those elements forward.

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Taco testing with Queenstown locals

The pair worked hard to get their recipes right. Every Wednesday evening they developed their menu at their flat, based on feedback from friends and family. Meanwhile, with chalked outlines on the driveway, they plotted the layout for their ideal taco truck and got building. 

Having apprenticed in a number of Queenstown cafes and restaurants, Robbie had plenty of experience in the kitchen, but says he knew from the beginning that a vital component of any authentic taqueria is the social aspect.

‘In a place like Queenstown, it’s the locals who are your lifeblood when the tourists numbers are low. So, we offered a discount on our tacos to locals, and started getting a big following through word of mouth.” says Robbie.

From food truck to taqueria 

Growth came quickly. Within two weeks of opening their van’s servery hatch, Taco Medic was a number one recommendation on Trip Advisor.

“We soon expanded with another site for the truck during the days, but we wanted to be open seven days a week and offer a consistent product in terms of quality. An actual store was what we needed,” says Robbie.

The first store was a hole-in-the-wall establishment, followed by a second larger premises.

Today the van is still a fixture of the company, but with two taquerias in Queenstown, Ant and Robbie are firmly focused on growth, which has led to the opening of their third outlet in Auckland.

Left to right: Ant and Robbie in their food truck; Taco Medic's newest outlet in Auckland's Ponsonby Road

Growth, vision, teamwork and tacos 

Ant and Robbie believe the growth they have experienced is down to three things: hard work, partnering with good people, and having a long-term vision for their business.

“Having long term goals is crucial – we want to establish another couple of branches in Auckland and our next move will be into Australia,” says Ant. “We want 50 stores eventually, and you need determination and passion to realise that sort of goal.

“We have surrounded ourselves with good people and built a team who all live and breathe tacos!” he laughs.

“We’d include Bob Johnson, our Crombie Lockwood broker in Queenstown in that group too. Bob has been our insurance broker since day one. The very first day I picked up our original taco van in the North Island and started driving south, I thought to call Bob and say, ‘Hey we need insurance on this van!’

“Bob fully understands our business as it is today and where we aspire to take it. He assesses all the angles for us and that is so valuable. He’s also a big taco fan! Insurance isn’t something we have time to think about day-to-day, so it’s good to have some expert eyes on the topic on our behalf as the business transforms”, says Ant.

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"If you’re passionate about your idea, use that energy. Work hard and don’t be afraid to evolve what you’re doing as you go – you have to understand what your customer wants in order to guarantee a good experience.”

Ant Wilkins, Taco Medic

How to turn a great idea into a business  

For businesses that want to bring their ideas and passion to a wider audience, Robbie and Ant have the following advice: 

“If you believe you’ve got a great idea, then use that fire to push yourself forward. Back yourself 100 percent. Imagine having a great idea and not doing anything about it, only for someone else to succeed with something similar – that would be pretty gutting."

"If you’re passionate about your idea, use that energy. Work hard and don’t be afraid to evolve what you’re doing as you go – you have to understand what your customer wants in order to guarantee a good experience.”

Ant and Robbie’s enthusiasm is contagious. “Taco Medic International? Yep, definitely. Taco Medic Intergalactic? Who knows!” laughs Robbie.

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Published April 2022

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