Nixta Taqueria is a new eatery on Austin’s East Side. After opening in October of 2019, and securing its beer and wine license in January 2020, owner Sara Mardanbigi looks to innovate and educate to keep her guests excited.
On selling wine with tacos
We have been fortunate to get lots of press coverage from Texas Monthly and Food & Wine. People were interested, wondering like why is this place doing tacos and wine, does this make sense? And then they found out that, yes, it is delicious, and it works.
My personal palate is for higher-acid wines, which lend themselves well to the palate of this menu. In Houston, Austin, Dallas, we are seeing a little bit of everything in each city; there is a curiosity about food and wine, and boundaries you can break with those, especially since we are not a traditional taqueria. We use maize and nixtamalization, Oaxacan-style, but our toppings are non-traditional and can pair with a chenin from the Loire or a funky pet-nat from Australia. People are willing to be a little more adventurous because the food menu is designed that way as well.
On pivoting to takeout
Takeout for us is directly correlated to the pandemic: we are a super-small restaurant—like 25 indoors max—and at the time of the shutdown we didn’t really have outdoor seating. We are counter service! But we noticed what was going on globally and domestically—especially when NY and LA started shutting down. We worked proactively on the back end [of our POS], and also started building an online presence. Once South by [Southwest] got canceled, we knew it was happening; pretty much immediately we had everything set up to do to-go orders.
Alcohol to go was not legal quite yet, because there are weird rules with the TABC [TX Alcoholic Beverage Commission], but once we could do wine to go, we offered from the get-go a mystery booze bag. It was a six-pack, a bottle of wine and a little surprise. The little surprises were tchotchkes from around the restaurant or from Mexico, various candies from Mexico, stuff like that. At the time, everyone was feeling sad, so we wanted to give a little surprise.
On outdoor dining
We never reopened the dining room, but we did expand the patio and backyard, adding more tables. We were selling more liter bottles and more effervescent wines [than normal].
On changing buying strategies
I’ve ordered more casual bottlings, with smaller buys, like buying half cases instead of full, to consider what is moving, and what is not.
On retail strategies
We offered wine at a little higher than retail pricing, competitively. We are still selling the same wines, but never reverted to the four- to five-times markup; we kept it at the two- to three-times markup instead, marketing it that way to our demographic of customers.
We did some fun packaging to sell different bottles for different holidays—like for Thanksgiving we offered a more traditional trio, and also some funky new wines, we were trying to reach different groups of people and find what works! We have a natural wine fridge with the oranges we carry.
On whether the pandemic’s effects on the restaurant will persist
Collectively in Texas, I don’t think the pandemic is going away for a long time, and guests are hesitant. I don’t think we will be able to stop takeout and survive. It is not ideal for us, but we have had to adjust all operations; it is challenging to give excellent customer service [split between dine-in and takeout]. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t want to be doing takeout anymore, because it doesn’t make sense for our concept. It creates lots of waste; we use all-compostable stuff, but it is still single-use, so ideally we would stop takeout. I think outdoor service will still make sense for us, though.
On silver linings
I think there is more of an opportunity to tell the story of wine right now: before the shutdown, we had Franklin-BBQ-scary lines [ an Austin mainstay famous for 3- to 4-hour-long lines ], so we were just trying to get people in and out as quickly as possible! Because of the split between dine-in and takeout forced by COVID, we have been able to slow down the pace and talk about things more. We have a chance to talk a little bit more about the wine and what guests are interested in/what we think would be best for what they are going to order.
Generally, there has been a surge of interest in wines! Because people are sitting at home all damn day, they are more interested in wines! I am in this offshoot online class of a Masters course; there are 90 others in it, and so many of them are not working in wine, but they’re just taking it to learn some stuff! I think there is a shift of people who have a higher interest in learning about wine who are not in the industry, so businesses will have a better shot at moving the wines they want.
Caitlin Griffith knew her future career would entail food and drink when, at the age of six, she munched an anchovy from her father’s Caesar salad thinking it as a small strip of bacon—and was more than pleasantly surprised. While enrolled in New York University’s Food Studies program, she learned the secrets of affinage in the caves of Murray’s Cheese.
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