Passing the Torch & Keeping It in the Family

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Linda Blair, Tasty Tacos. Photo by Wezz De La Rosa / Hola America
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By Christina Fernández-Morrow, Hola Iowa

Sixty-two years ago, Antonia Mosqueda and her husband Richard took a family recipe for a flour taco and turned it into a Des Moines institution. Tasty Tacos is often the most missed restaurant when Central Iowans move away, and their first stop once landing back in the city. With six locations in the Des Moines metro area, the Mosqueda family has grown twice as large since patriarch Richard passed away in 2000. Continuing the family business, his daughter Linda Blair stepped in as co-president and later became president and CEO. With her mother at her side for guidance and support, Blair grew the business and expanded into retail. “He might have been in the limelight, but she was always there, right beside him. They were a team,” recalls Blair.  “With my mother behind me, who is a strong person, she was my sounding board, my confidante. She held me up through tough times and kept me strong. I couldn’t have done it without her.”

Tough times are inevitable in any business. One of those times was the floods of 1993, when 250,000 Des Moines residents were without water, over 40,000 without power, and nearly 50 people died. Tasty Tacos never closed their doors. “We stayed open the whole time. That amazes me now, how we did that. I remember we had bottled water coming in every day. We used bottled water to wash, we used it to cook,” says Blair with wonderment in her voice recalling how they kept up with orders in the midst of the entire city being declared a disaster area. Knowing how to operate in the face of adversity is the secret sauce to a long-lasting business. Whenever they faced hard times, like the 2020 pandemic, Blair knew how to tighten belts and pull in the reins. She constantly analyzed costs and expenses to ensure the restaurants were running efficiently and effectively, to keep costs low without compromising the flavors their customers crave. “We know how to survive and that’s really helped us. You have to know when to cut back. There are lots of luxuries,” says Blair, referring to items of convenience that may end up having greater costs down the line. “When money’s low you really have to keep it tight. A lot of people don’t know how to do that and that’s why a lot of businesses fail.” Being a family-owned business, everyone has a vested interest in her success, so Blair had plenty of encouragement to do what she needed to keep the business running.

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She wasn’t afraid to take risks when it came to innovating to keep Tasty Tacos growing. After years of customers buying their taco sauce and salsa by the quart, she decided to bottle it. Today, you can find their salsas, red taco sauce and packets of taco seasonings on shelves in Hy-Vee in Iowa and neighboring states. That bold step strengthened the Tasty Tacos brand, a feat her father would be proud of, and one that her mother continues to support. “She’s a force,” says Blair of her mother’s championing her growth strategy. “She always gives her opinion, and we always listen because she’s been there since day one. Why wouldn’t we listen to her? She’s been there through thick and thin, so she’s seen it all. She’s still a stockholder and advisor to the board. That’s the role I’m going to take from here on out.” 

Earlier this year, Blair stepped down as president and CEO, and her daughter, Jennifer Gardner took over that role. Gardner grew up watching her grandmother guide her mother, working alongside Blair for over twenty years, and is now poised to be the third generation to lead the family business. Family is key to their success. Blair’s son is the VP and her nieces, nephews, cousins and siblings all play essential roles managing locations and the administrative side of running the business. But just because Blair is retiring, it doesn’t mean she plans to step away entirely. “Not many people stay at a job for over 40 years. I started washing dishes at a very early age.” Blair worked many jobs at Tasty Tacos while the business grew; she was there as they went from a hole in the wall to their current half dozen locations. “When kids are part of it from the beginning, it’s part of who they are, it’s part of their life. They can’t imagine not doing it anymore.” While she hopes to have more time for her hobbies like biking, pickleball, and beach vacations, she still plans to be around to help her daughter transition. “I am going to work part-time. I’m not ready to completely cut those ties.” Blair hopes to see her vision of a nationwide brand come to pass with their salsa and spices in stores beyond the Midwest, and serve on the board to support Gardner as she implements her ideas for the future of the business.

With her daughter under her wing, and her mother at her side for continued support, Blair is poised to leave a legacy that parallels that of her father who taught her, “Nada es imposible, nothing is impossible” – a saying she has clearly taken to heart and proven to be her personal motto.

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Earlier this year, Linda Blair (right) stepped down as president and CEO, and her daughter, Jennifer Gardner took over that role.
Photo by Wezz De La Rosa / Hola America

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