The response has been overwhelming since last week's announcement on social media that Taco del Sol and the Hub Coffee would open a new joint location in East Helena, said Shalon Hastings, the owner of both businesses.
After posting the announcement to her personal Facebook page, she posted it on the Helena Classifieds Thursday, Jan. 28. By the next day, the post had nearly 900 likes.
Hastings, who was honored last year by the U.S. Small Business Administration as Montana’s Small Business Person of the Year for a medium-sized business, has owned and operated Taco del Sol since 2004 and the Hub since 2013 at their downtown locations. After looking at possibilities for opening second locations in areas such as North Montana Avenue, she decided the former home of East Helena’s A&W off U.S. Highway 12 made great business sense.
“I felt like with the highway right here with a street light and the fact that it’s been a restaurant with the drive through, I really liked the location,” Hastings said. “And I really thought there’s nothing else like this in East Helena.”
A&W did well for about 15 years before the owner decided to move on, she said. A barbecue restaurant followed and was short-lived, but Hastings believes the name recognition for her businesses will give them an advantage over an unknown.
Hastings laughed when asked about housing businesses with such different products under the same roof. Would someone waiting for a coffee want to sit in the same line as a burrito customer?
With both coffee and the Mexican food quick to prepare, neither group of customers will have to wait, she said. Plus the expansion into breakfast burritos or other breakfast products is a natural evolution, she added.
Customers will share the drive through, but the business will have separate counters inside, Hastings said.
One challenge is the fact that the building still resembles an A&W, she said, but the owner has agreed to a new exterior paint scheme and interior remodel. Along with revamping the building, landscaping will include raised beds potentially for a community garden or a space employees can use to grow their own produce.
“With having the combination of two businesses it makes the lease affordable because this is a big building,” Hastings said.
Expanded space will allow Hastings to offer some additional services as well as more room to expand the existing lines. Taco del Sol can expand into catering, a frequent request for casual occasions, she said, and the Hub will look at shifting its baking operation to East Helena while the downtown store focuses on coffee.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana's move from downtown Helena to its new location near East Helena will add an already loyal customer base only a few minutes away to those already working in and around East Helena, she said.
“Kudos to Shalon for being attuned to the growth in East Helena,” said Helena Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Cathy Burwell. “If you look at the growth in their school district, for example, there’s obviously a great customer base, so I think it’s a really smart move.”
The location along Highway 12 is highly visible, with 600 Broadwater County commuters driving past it every day. East Helena offers some of the more affordable housing options in the area, and Taco del Sol is known as an affordable restaurant with good food, Burwell said.
People in Helena also often travel to eat out, she said, giving examples such as the Legal Tender in Clancy or some of the other restaurants in East Helena.
Burwell agrees that name recognition is valuable when expanding businesses from their primary locations, but having already run successful businesses is another major leg up, Burwell said.
“I think having a business model that works and learning those hard knocks – it’s not easy to be a small business owner, but to do this well when you already know how to run a business is an ace-in-the-hole,” she said.
Hastings hopes to have the East Helena location up and running by mid-March. In the meantime, she is taking resumes at the downtown Helena Taco del Sol and Hub locations, with plans to train employees and then transition them to the new store.