Local entrepreneur Steve Dunn is filling a gap in the Rochester food scene with his business Taco JED. Dunn aims for his restaurant to be welcoming to everyone in the community and to bring people together through a love of tacos.
Dunn, a native of Grand Forks, North Dakota, began his career in insurance and commercial real estate before setting his sights on food.
“I got into the whole taco business is because of the recession,” Dunn explained.
The economic downturn hit the commercial real estate market hard, causing financial strain for Dunn’s employer. At that point, Dunn decided to leave real estate behind, launching a taco restaurant in 2010, called Rusty Taco, in Dallas, Texas alongside Rusty Fenton. After Rusty passed away, the restaurant was acquired by Buffalo Wild Wings in 2014 and is now owned by Inspire Brands. Rusty Taco franchises have opened in thirty-one different locations in eight states. Dunn moved from Dallas to Minneapolis to help grow the brand working with Buffalo Wild Wings. He spent several years growing the Franchise business as CEO of Rusty Taco, before deciding it was time to move on yet again and open up a restaurant of his very own.
Dunn knew he wanted to launch his newest business somewhere in Minnesota to stay close to family. His siblings currently live around the Twin Cities and parents live in Bemidji. His son attends Concordia Saint Paul and his daughters study in Nebraska. After researching several markets, Dunn chose Rochester.
“Rochester is the fastest growing city in Minnesota,” he explained. “I checked out the competition and felt that I had a little niche that I could fit into.”
Dunn found a location for his business along South Broadway and opened his newest endeavor, Taco JED, on October 4th of last year.
“We want [the restaurant] to be open and inviting to everyone. Our motto is ‘Tacos Unite People,’” he said.
Dunn hopes to keep Taco JED as local as possible with Rochester beers on tap, local art on the walls, and live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
While building Taco JED, Dunn has been very intentional, down to the details. The restaurant itself is represented by a cartoon of a tousled-haired, sun glassed, cap wearing, bearded character called JED, who stands for whatever Dunn wants at any given moment. However, the name JED pays homage to Dunn’s father, grandfather, and great grandfather, all named Joseph Edward Dunn. In addition to the JED mascot, many other seemingly random items in the restaurant have significant purpose. A rooster image in dining area of the restaurant is from Dunn’s mother. Photography from Dunn’s brother adorns the walls, including an image for one of Dunn’s daughters. Albums lining the walls were chosen by people who worked on the restaurant. Gifted fan art of JED hangs on a wall near the kitchen, created by local artist Brian Jungers. Motorcycle helmets donated by customers, representing one of JED’s favorite hobbies, line the restaurant. A large display Dunn built himself hangs along a side wall displaying patches from all sixty national parks, encouraging people to “Go see the world and eat tacos.”
While the layout of the restaurant is similar to what Dunn was accustomed to with Rusty Taco, he called on Dallas designer Brent McMahon to help bring his new vision to life. Beyond a common blueprint, Dunn was able to apply many lessons learned from Rusty Taco to the current business, but said staffing was originally a challenge. Dunn says he’s happy with the progress Taco JED has made over the last few months and feels the food itself has been well received in the community.
Taco JED will soon be open on Sundays, along with more live music. JED’s Shed, the bar portion of the restaurant, is currently building a patio for outdoor seating, which will be serving margaritas soon.