What made Taco Mayo so special?

by Charles Gerian

The cursed lot that sits on Doolin and 1st Street might have been any number of things before or since, but it has ALWAYS been one thing in the hearts and minds of Blackwell residents:

Taco Mayo.

The Tex-Mex chain began as a restaurant in Soonertown aka Norman, Oklahoma in 1978 before launching into a franchise in the early 1980s, spawning locations throughout Oklahoma and even into Kansas, Arkansas, and Texas.

One such chain popped up in Blackwell, and the town’s history and palette was never the same.

I don’t know exactly when it opened, but the restaurant closed its doors in roughly 2016 giving way to the short-lived Iron Horse restaurant and then the equally short-lived Golden Chick franchise’s efforts which was a good cluckin’ time for a while.

Taco Mayo’s menu included some frail tacos that, if held too hard, would shatter in your hands as well as burritos of various quality and their iconic “loco” potatoes.

I can remember it like it was yesterday, the musky smell of that restaurant. The flickering lights. The dimmed and damaged drive-through menu. The workers hanging out of the window handing me my food with a lit cigarette dangling from their lips or one still smoldering behind their ears. The flat fountain drinks filled to the brim in those iconic white and yellow styrofoam cups that were more plentiful along sidewalks than grass itself.

When Taco Mayo was opened, everyone thought it was disgusting and grimy, but everyone loved it. Like an old mangy dog that you didn’t exactly want to pet, but it was good company, and would occasionally drop a dead rabbit at your feet as a sign of respect.

Make no mistake, I did love Taco Mayo. Nothing hit quite as hard after a night of … beverages … than rolling up to that window with a car full of friends and spending $10 dollars for 97 tacos, 12 Dayton burritos, 46 orders of locos, and a few fountain drinks.

But it was, with all due respect, disgusting towards the end.

But what made Taco Mayo so special? If you asked around after they had closed, you would think you were polling Americans after November 22, 1963 lamenting the loss of John F. Kennedy.

“Taken too soon,” they’d say. “Blackwell’s really going under now,” they’d mourn.

What made Taco Mayo special certainly wasn’t the quality of food. It absolutely wasn’t the presentation or the aesthetics of the restaurant which, by the end, had their sign looking like someone’s broken teeth with letters dangling off the board.

Perhaps it was the service. They were fast, all things considered. But definitely, it was the price.

You could eat like a king for a pocket full of change or, if you didn’t have that, possibly bartering some chewing tobacco, a half-drank 6 pack of Natty Light, or a crushed pack of 24-7s.

Personally, I was always partial to Taco Bell / KFC which, in and of itself, was like a normal Taco Bell / KFC except one that the survivor’s of a show like The Walking Dead would find themselves in. But that’s a story for another time.

Through the years, any new business or potential new business that would eye-ball the old Taco Mayo building would be bullied or runoff by the pitchfork and torch-wieling internet mobs who wanted ‘Mayor or nothin’.

When Golden Chick came to town, you would have thought grave robbers were desecrating a holy burial site by the way the citizens reacted.

And maybe they were desecrating a holy site.

When I wrote about Blackwell’s C-Mart gas station, I noted that while it was a disgusting cess-pool, it was special and comforting because it was OURS. Or perhaps YOURS as I am not technically from here.

But I have fond memories of Mayo. Biking up there to meet my dad for lunch one summer when I was working rental properties before school started. Going there after the football games with a group of Maroons, always making sure to get the corner booth under the straw umbrella. Going there late at night absolutely smashed out of my mind with the boys.

There is something special about that food chain. Something so special that I know people who regularly journey to Enid or beyond to get it again. It is nostalgic comfort food, truly.

The people loved it, they hated it, but perhaps more powerful than love or hate it the fact that they miss it.

When Hastings in Ponca closed, I reacted in anger to any store that moved in there, too. Sure they were over-priced, the selection became mid over time, it always smelled bad, and the employees were kind of a-holes except that one girl that worked there, the hot one with the dark hair and piercings. It was bad towards the end, but it was home.

If Taco Mayo came back to Blackwell, the roads would all magically be repaved. New stores would pop up overnight from the ground. Utility rates would plummet. My ex would come back. Gas prices would be below a dollar. My other ex would come back. One Direction would get back together. Another Potros would open up. The war in Iraq would end. Russia would pull out of Ukraine. My other-other ex would come back.

The world would know peace like no other… if only for a moment.

So what are you waiting for? Be the change you want to see in the world. Become a franchise owner today, and be the hero of Blackwell.