Schoolhouse Spaces: Stella Taco

When it comes to tacos, we don't discriminate by day. Sure, Tuesday is all good but we'll take a taco anytime, anywhere. Luckily we have Stella Taco to fill our weekly quota. Homey, fun, and with a good dose of old-fashioned Austin, Texas flair, Stella Taco is the kinda place where you can just hang. Or chill, thanks to some next-level frozen margaritas. Now with two locations in Portland, we sat down for a friendly chat with co-owner Becky Atkins about all things taco, the special role her grandmother played in the opening of Stella, and her personal food philosophy.

Name: Stella Taco

Date opened: May 13th, 2016
Neighborhood: SE Division St; Richmond

Tell us about Stella Taco – What was the inspiration behind the restaurant?

"We knew that we wanted to open a fun restaurant in Portland. We had just sold our fine dining restaurants in El Paso, TX and really wanted a change. Our Partner and Chef, Matt Fields, was working at Little Bird Bistro at the time and he was also looking for a more casual experience. Matt had the idea to open a Texas style taco joint and we were really excited at the prospect of that."

Where does the name come from?

"Stella is my grandmother's name. We knew we would name our next restaurant Stella before we even knew what our next restaurant would be. I have all these amazing pictures from when she and my Grandfather took a cross-country road trip in an Airstream trailer and I wanted to capture that feeling of fun and adventure with the project."

Was there a specific design vision from the beginning or did it come together organically? How did you work together to create the unique look and feel of the space?   

"The space on Division is actually our second location for Stella. With our first location, we wanted to give the impression of an open-air market that you would encounter along the Texas- Mexico border. Everything was a little more rustic and open. In our space on Division St, there were already a lot of delicate colors and materials in the space so we thought, 'Let's make this feel comfortable and inviting like my Grandmother's house'. We were able to get a really great art deco lighting fixture from Schoolhouse Electric and that really kicked off the design scheme. From there we worked with a local muralist to add some Austin, Texas-inspired artwork and found a few more pieces, such as red enameled lighting covers and table legs, and the Texas retro look really came together."

What are some of your favorite elements about the overall design or branding of Stella?

"Personally, my favorite part of our branding has been font choices. We've played with so many and now I really feel that we have a comprehensive design package so that even a take away menu tells a little bit of our story."

Can you tell us your philosophy behind food and how that plays out in the menu and presentation?

"Having worked in the restaurant industry for so long I have a very open mind with food. To me, 'There is a lid for every pot' when it comes to restaurants and I don't expect everyone to be the same. With Stella Taco, our approach has always been: 'Let's have fun.' We try and do food that makes people happy and service that makes you feel welcome."

What sets Stella apart from the typical Portland dining scene or just in general?

"I think the most unique part of the Stella Taco experience is that we set out from the beginning to be family friendly. We have always had games and coloring sheets for the kids so that their parents could sit down and enjoy themselves. We have also had a menu that we designed for kids so that parents don't have to worry about finding something they will eat."

What’s your #1 recommended food and drink order?

"I am first and foremost a Breakfast Taco junkie, so I eat them all day. Whenever I come in with friends and can kick back I love a Brisket and Egg Breakfast taco with a Jalapeño Margarita."

What do you like best about Portland and your neighborhood?

"I love the collaborative nature of Portland business owners. We have done so many great collaborations with people and that has been the best experience so far. They haven't all been wild successes but they were all a blast. I also love the friendly atmosphere of SE Division St. The feel of the Richmond neighborhood has changed dramatically and we get people in all the time that say: ‘I've lived in the neighborhood for twenty years and I’m glad to welcome you’. That feels pretty great to hear and makes us really feel like a part of the community!

Images via Ellie Lillstrom