Taqueria Amor’s proven success throughout the years has remained a bright spot during the pandemic.
By Megan Douress • Photography by Melissa Kelly Photography (melissakellyphotography.com)
The storefront at 4410 Main Street has seen it all. During The Great Depression, it housed the North Light Boys Club, or what we now know as North Light Community Center. Towards the end of the 20th century, it was the spot to get the freshest pair of kicks. But since 2013, it’s housed perhaps its most popular — and resilient — tenant, Taqueria Amor.
The story of Taqueria Amor’s owner, Tim Spinner, is one we’ve all heard before. Like anyone with an Italian mother, Tim’s love of food started in the kitchen of his childhood home.
“As young as six-years-old, I remember saying to my mom, ‘I want to open up a restaurant someday,’” Tim explained. “This was in the 80’s. Restaurants weren’t what they are today. It was more like, ‘grab a pizza on a Friday night.’ There wasn’t a plethora of restaurants.”
While his parents strongly advised he go to “real college” instead of culinary school, that love of food led Tim to work numerous jobs in mom and pop restaurants — doing everything from cooking to bartending. Upon graduating from Shippensburg University in 2001, Tim lived in Manayunk and enrolled at The Restaurant School, where he later earned an associate’s degree.
After a brief stint in the corporate world, Tim found himself in José Garces’ circle. As part of the opening team of Center City’s El Vez in 2003, he made salad and ceviche for $10/hour.
“At El Vez, I fell in love with the food, I fell in love with the cuisine, and I fell in love with the people I was working with,” Tim remembered. “In fact, some of the people who taught me how to cook Mexican food in the early to mid-2000s have worked at Taqueria since we opened.”
A few years later, Tim followed José when he opened Amada, and then again when he opened Distrito in 2008. With years of experience under his belt, Tim and his then-business partner went off to open their own slew of Mexican restaurants. The Feliz Restaurants grew quickly and by 2013, the small franchise was looking for its newest location.
“I had previously lived here for almost 10 years, so I was very familiar with Manayunk and the restaurant scene,” Tim said. “There was a need for a Mexican restaurant. We had actually looked in Manayunk as our original location. It’s so much more comforting down here. It fits my personality and my vibe. The community is great.”
By the time Taqueria Feliz opened on Main Street later that year, The Feliz Restaurants had already gained a loyal following — and it’s no wonder why. Chefs Angelica Hernandez and Guillermo Pozos kept customers well-fed with authentic dishes while their front-of-house staff, led by managers Marty Rechenberg and Max Molseed, kept things fun and made customers feel welcome — something they still do today.
“When everyone works well together and makes it through a busy shift, there really is a sense of comradery,” said Max Molseed, assistant manager at Taqueria Amor. “We all work hard to support each other and that’s allowed us to exceed and grow.”
It’s that recipe for success that’s kept much of Tim’s original staff — both back of house and front of house — on the schedule since those early years.
“You have to have thick skin to work in the service industry but I have a whole family I’ve found here who has my back,” said Shayna Karl, server and social media coordinator at Taqueria Amor. “I’ve learned a different culture from our chefs that I absolutely love, I am fluent in talking tequila, I’ve met my best friends, and I have a boss who I am proud of and who lets my creativity flow!”
With a rockstar staff behind him, Tim was able to evolve Taqueria Feliz over the years. But in 2018, he and his wife welcomed their fifth child and Tim came to the realization that owning three restaurants was no longer feasible if he wanted to see all of his kids grow up. After speaking with his then-business partner, Tim stepped back from the franchise and fully took over Taqueria Feliz in early 2020. With its “new” sole owner came a new name — Taqueria Amor — and a new look.
“I had all of these huge visions, but it was easier to concentrate on one of them instead of running around to three restaurants,” Tim said. “In 2020, we started this whole process of evolving Taqueria. A lot of the stuff we did was planned out. I knew I wanted to do a Christmas pop-up a year in advance. Although, I didn’t think I would take it to that extreme.”
Shortly after officially taking over, the pandemic hit and Tim’s visions were somewhat halted. He was faced with a decision — shut down operations for a period of time or change up the business plan. The dining room may have shut down, but a takeout window was installed — or as they say, when one door closes, another one opens.
“A good number of employees, including myself, wanted to keep working and that helped us through those uncertain times,” said Marty Rechenberg, manager at Taqueria Amor. “Takeout had always been a piece of our business, so the transition was not too hard. Our daily roles changed, but we were committed to serve the community throughout the pandemic.”
“It was really rewarding to see so many people come up to the takeout window, wait in line, or sit out in freezing temps,” added Chelsea Herrmann, server at Taqueria Amor. “We felt that support. You will always feel the love at Taqueria Amor!”
That love only continued to spread from there. Throughout the pandemic, Tim and his faithful staff executed his vision and more, from pop-up menus and events to hosting vendors — and of course, who could forget that holiday light display?
“Did I think these investments would pan out?” Tim asked. “Yes and no. Obviously for Christmas, it was a huge investment, but for me, it was more about providing something for the community to enjoy in such a crazy time — and also hopefully bringing a lot more people to the restaurant and to Main Street and provide a busy restaurant for our staff to make more tips.”
While the constant stress and changes of the pandemic threw curveball after curveball for small businesses everywhere, Taqueria Amor thrived — and continues to do so. This summer, Tim and his staff have plans to do more pop-ups, similar to “Tikiria,” which featured Hawaiian-style food and drinks throughout the month of March. Tim also has big plans for Halloween and will once again bring holiday cheer to the 4400 block of Main Street during the holiday season.
What’s his motivation throughout all of this? His loyal customers.
“They’re everything to us and our staff,” Tim said. “Our staff has developed great relationships with our guests. We want to give them something new every time they come back.”
As for what the future holds for Taqueria Amor, Tim hinted at a thing or two, but wouldn’t give away his secrets just yet. One thing he knows for sure though: pandemic or not, he’s not going anywhere.
“Manayunk has so much to offer,” he said. “It’s only going to get bigger and better for us.”