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Indie Awards: Mexican food via Tunisia

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Finalist: Hidden Gem

Taco King

Saber Naghmouchi | Photo by Benjamin Weatherston

Saber Naghmouchi | Photo by Benjamin Weatherston

This is the kind of story that would be jaw-dropping if it happened anywhere else. In Ann Arbor, though, it’s just another entrepreneurial tale: Man leaves his home in Tunisia, opens a business he knows nothing about —a restaurant —serving food he’s not familiar with —Mexican —and makes it big.

Saber Naghmouchi left Tunisia in 2001 to go to school in Pennsylvania, then moved to Toledo, Ohio, to finish his master’s degree at Bowling Green State University. He spent several years managing a party store, but said he was always on the lookout for a good business opportunity.

He found it two years ago when Liberty Market in Ann Arbor came on the market. Just that quickly, he became the proud owner of a Mexican restaurant and an attached Latin/South American grocery store and money service.

Even though he’d never even worked in a restaurant, Naghmouchi said he wasn’t too worried about running one in Ann Arbor because he didn’t see much competition. It’s just that simple. And he aims to keep it simple with a mantra that describes his ultimate definition of success: “To serve quality food with good customer service.”

So far, so good. Taco King has been a hit almost since it opened. “People were waiting half an hour for two tacos after that first month,” Naghmouchi says.

It certainly wasn’t because of the restaurant’s location. Taco King is at 2231 West Liberty St., off the road so far that you almost have to be looking for it to see it. (Hence, the Hidden Gem nomination.) But the lines continue to be long. They’re so long, in fact, that Naghmouchi is considering opening a second location, and he’s even dreaming of franchising.

He doesn’t see anything all that unusual about his story. “You don’t have to be Mexican to open a Mexican restaurant,” he said. Besides, he’s grown to love Mexican food. “I’m hooked,” he said, especially on fish tacos.

And he’s also hooked on his new hometown. “I’ve had loyal customers for two years,” he says. “People in Ann Arbor are great. I love this town. There’s a mix of people here, a unique culture. My co-workers feel the same way.”

Kyle Poplin

Kyle Poplin is co-founder and editor of The Ann magazine.

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