There is yet another new chapter coming for a legendary Capitol Hill restaurant space.
CHS has learned that Rocket Taco, a family restaurant with Capitol Hill roots first launched on Whidbey Island earlier this year, will touch down on 19th Ave E in the old Kingfish Cafe location with plans to open in 2018.
“We already feel like we’re part of that strip since we live a few blocks away,” Jill Rosen tells CHS. “We’re really excited to be among friends.”
While Rocket Taco is a family-run venture first fired up in the sleepy island town of Freeland, Whidbey Island where the couple also keep a home, the family restaurant’s launchpad is stronger than most. Steve Rosen is an industry veteran who helped create Blue C Sushi and build Madison Holdings, the company behind concepts including Boom Noodle. His current ventures include Elemental Pizza, a two location wood-fired pizza concept. But Rocket Taco is Jill’s baby. And she has had tacos on her mind for awhile.
“I think our first conversations about tacos were about eight years ago in San Diego,” she said of the restaurant’s genesis and a lack of good Mexican food options in her home city. “Why not in Seattle?”
Ready to wrap up her career as a dental hygienist, Jill started looking for opportunities to grow a new business on top of Steve’s big concept experience. “My past projects were larger scale,” Steve said. “This is so different.”
The plan had been to originally launch the taco idea here on Capitol Hill near where they live not far from Holy Names. But the opportunity on Whidbey was too good to pass up. The island, instead, became the start point for Rocket Taco. Soon the orbit will include the peculiar connection of 19th Ave E and Freeland.
The Rocket Taco concept is simple — “quality, affordable, hand made food” with fresh, house-made tortillas and an emphasis on speed, consistency, and accessible pricing. Jill says the tortillas are crucially important. “I spent a long time playing with menus and tortillas,” she said. “Boy I had a lot of tortillas failures.”
Having watched the way issues like service charges and with more venues on the Hill phasing out tipping, the Rosens say they fully support the city’s move to a $15 minimum wage and are still sorting out the best way to balance earnings across the front and back of house staff. “We’re exploring that in real time right now,” Steve said.
Simpler issues are solved. Rocket Taco Capitol Hill will be a lunch and dinner place with counter service and a casual feel similar to the Freeland original and with a similar tiled look. The Kingfish’s old bar, however, is at a completely different scale than the original Rocket — the better to serve up the restaurant’s scratch margaritas. There will be a TV showing sportsball, Steve insists though Jill was less sure of the need.
The savvy Rosens inherit a restaurant space on the rebound after decades of hard love from the legendary Kingfish Cafe days. After an extensive — and expensive — overhaul, Ernest Loves Agnes lasted just one year in the space before shuttering to start 2017. Owner Jason Lajeunesse’s attempt to reboot the project with a collaboration with Brian Clevenger called Contadino lasted only six months. The sale to the Rosens hopefully helped that crew recoup a good portion of its costs. What is left is a rebuilt restaurant and bar space in an increasingly busy neighborhood ripe for a concept to stick. The rebuilt bones also mean that Rocket Taco’s Capitol Hill launch date will come relatively quickly with plans for service to begin in January.
“It’s beautiful,” Jill said. “It looks like Rocket Taco inside. Colors, tiles. ‘This is meant to be,’ I thought.”
Steve, the industry veteran, sees the Capitol Hill launch of Rocket Taco through the prism of the trends he has been watching for years. “You see fewer and fewer people are wanting to leave their neighborhoods if they can get what they need near their house,” he says. The neighborhood restaurant that caters to a few block radius is alive and well — even in the 19th Ave E suburbs of Capitol Hill.
Jill sees opening a Rocket Taco in her home neighborhood a little differently.
“This feels like coming home,” she said.
Rocket Taco is planned to open in January at 600 19th Ave E. You can learn more at rocket-taco.com.